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Nidhi Baraiya asked: Is the US not in favour of India getting the APEC membership?

Jagannath P. Panda replies: India’s prospective membership in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum is a long-debated subject. New Delhi has been aspiring for the APEC membership for the last two decades. It had applied in 1997 and again in 2007. Earlier, India’s economy was not viewed as developed enough or sufficiently ingrained into the Asia-Pacific region to be included in the APEC. It was also argued that due to frequent change of governments in the late 1990s, New Delhi could not pursue its case for membership in a serious manner. However, in recent years, major powers including the United States (US) have come to regard India as a major economy in the Asia-Pacific region. But consensus on India’s membership still appears to be missing among the member states of the APEC forum.

The doubt over India’s eligibility for the membership slowly began to fade away with the arrival of competing trade-liberalising models like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the Asia-Pacific region. India’s partaking in the RCEP negotiation created a positive ambience for India’s role in the region. As a result, many American strategists and policymakers now view India as too important an economy in the region to be kept out of the APEC. India’s non-inclusion in the APEC also goes against the US ‘pivot to Asia’ policy.

The erstwhile Barack Obama administration seemed positively inclined towards India’s possible inclusion in the APEC. The US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, released on January 25, 2015, stated that “the United States welcomes India’s interest in joining the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, as the Indian economy is a dynamic part of the Asian economy”. However, even after two years, the US has not succeeded in generating the necessary consensus in India’s favour. Doubts prevail therefore, as to how serious is the US about its acknowledgement of the importance of the Indian economy for the Asia-Pacific region. There is a new administration in Washington now, and it is too early to suggest if there is a new wind blowing in India’s favour.

The abandonment of TPP by the Donald Trump administration signals a policy shift in Washington. The new US administration for now appears to be more interested in conducting bilateral trade negotiations with countries in the Asia-Pacific, than strengthening any multilateral trading mechanism. India needs to take note of this. As consensus among the member states is crucial for securing the APEC membership, India needs to accordingly work with the US and other partner countries in the region.

For more on the subject, please refer to my following publication:

Jagannath P. Panda, “Beijing’s APEC Call on India: A New Twist in India-China Power Politics?”, IDSA Issue Brief, August 05, 2014.

Posted on March 16, 2017

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