Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal will visit Beijing early next month to take part in the crucial 8th round of RCEP Ministerial meeting during which he is also expected to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart to discuss measures to address burgeoning bilateral trade deficit.
Goyal, who also heads the Ministries of Industries and Railways, would visit Beijing from August 2 to 3, will be the first Indian minister to visit China after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government assumed power for the second term.
Goyal will take part in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Intersessional Ministerial meet, the Indian Embassy said on Thursday.
His visit is regarded crucial for both bilateral trade issues and the RCEP talks.
Also, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar too is scheduled to visit Beijing next month.
Their visits are taking place ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to India later this year to take part in the 2nd informal summit with Modi which was expected to further solidify the bilateral ties after last year's Wuhan summit between them.
India is pressing China to address the yawning trade deficit which last year mounted to over USD 57 billion in a USD 95.5 billion bilateral trade.
Also India, China bilateral trade has declined by 3.59 per cent year on year netting USD 36.87 billion in the first five months of this year, denting optimism that the total trade volume may cross for the first time USD 100 billion in 2019.
India is demanding that China should open its markets for India's IT and pharmaceuticals sectors.
Chinese officials say measures have been taken to increase import of rice and sugar and accelerated the process of review and approvals of Indian pharmaceuticals and agricultural goods.
The two sides were expected to discuss more steps to increase up Indian exports as well as Chinese investments to India specially for prime minister Modi's 'Make in India' initiative ahead of Xi's visit.
Also for India, this round of RCEP talks are important as the grouping of the 16 Asia-Pacific countries aims to create one of the world's largest trading bloc encompassing 45 per cent of the world's population and 40 per cent of global trade.
The RCEP aims to create a free trade area (FTA) made up of 10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six FTA partners, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The RCEP aims at liberalising norms for trade in goods and services and boost investment among 16-member countries.
The last round of talks was held in March this year in Cambodia. The then Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu attended it.
China for its part is pushing for the RCEP after US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and launched a trade war with Beijing last year demanding China to reduce massive trade deficit which last year climbed to over USD 539 billion.
Facing threat of cheap imports from China, officials say India is specially seeking to protect its advantages in services and stagger the phase-out of tariffs over a longer period, to allow Indian industry more time to adjust.
India has also proposed a strict criterion to determine the source country of a product, based on which they get tariff concessions or duties in the RCEP pact which reportedly faced opposition from other members.
India's proposal for strict rules of origin was aimed at preventing Chinese goods from flooding the country through member countries.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently said RCEP can work out a deal by this year without India "for the time being."
He said India can join later.
A recent article in China's state-run Global Times said for China, a final RCEP deal will be an iconic achievement of the country's participation in multilateral trade, increasing its influence in the multilateral trading system. In this sense, China and Southeast Asian countries are eagerly anticipating concluding the deal by the end of this year.