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China, India agree to cooperate to boost trade, but RCEP talks unclear

This combined photo shows Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Kyodo)

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- China's President Xi Jinping and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi have agreed that the two countries will cooperate to bolster trade and investment with each other, Chinese media reported Thursday.

But the report did not elaborate whether the two leaders had in-depth discussion about ongoing negotiations on a sprawling Asia-Pacific free trade agreement during their meeting in Brasilia on Wednesday, as India has warned that it could pull out of the deal.

Xi and Modi held bilateral talks for the first time since the leaders of the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, including China and India, earlier this month gave up achieving their goal of finalizing the free trade pact by the end of this year.

While Beijing has been eager to conclude RCEP as soon as possible amid a lingering trade dispute with the United States, India has been reluctant to lower its trade barriers as it has suffered massive and chronic trade deficits with China for many years.

"China welcomes more exports of India's high-quality products to China" and the two nations "should work together to uphold multilateralism, safeguard the multilateral trading system," Xi was quoted by China's state-run Xinhua News Agency as telling Modi.

Modi, meanwhile, said India is "ready to constantly expand bilateral trade and investment with China and enhance their cooperation in energy and other fields," according to Xinhua.

The news agency did not touch on whether Xi and Modi talked about RCEP negotiations.

RCEP, covering a third of the global economy, has a history of missed deadlines with varying degrees of ambition among the members that include the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Talks began in 2013 with the initial goal of wrapping them up in 2015.

Accounting for half of the world's population, RCEP brings together Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, as well as the ASEAN states -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

If the free trade area is put into practice, trade and investment activities among RCEP countries would intensify on the back of measures such as the elimination and reduction of tariffs.

India, however, has been concerned that the deal would result in an influx of cheap agricultural and industrial products like smartphones from China, further increasing the trade surplus of the world's second-biggest economy, RCEP sources said.

Xi is visiting Brazil to participate in the summit of the BRICS grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

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