Forum for Trade Justice, a pan-civil society network has welcomed the failure of the 16 negotiating countries to reach a consensus over the conclusion of the world's largest free trade agreement deal - the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) during the meeting of their leaders in Bangkok today.
The group said that the Government of India should not agree to the RCEP even in future "as it will be a bad deal for democracy, for farmers, workers, will subvert our sovereign laws and compromise India's industrialisation potential, especially in the emerging critical arena of the digital economy". The group also said that RCEP provisions will undermine access to medicines, seeds, quality public services and the government's ability to regulate foreign investment in the public interest.
There have been unprecedented protests across the country from a wide range of constituencies against RCEP. This includes national and regional political parties and state governments such as Kerala and Punjab. Industry associations representing the automobile, steel, aluminium, copper, dairy, textiles, pharmaceuticals and bicycles sector have argued that RCEP will lead to deindustrialization, the group points out. They also stated that Indian trade unions were also against the deal as they feared it will lead to further job losses in labour intensive sectors that are already reeling under heavy import competition and low growth rates.
"Farmer's movements representing millions of small and medium farmers across the length and breadth of the country have provided evidence of how international competition in vegetable oil, oil seeds, pepper, cardamom, rubber and coconut products have already devastated livelihoods. Patients groups fear that intellectual property provisions will prevent access to affordable lifesaving generic medicines. If India accedes to demands on free data flows, no customs duties and no data localisation, the promise of digital industrialisation will remain a mirage and foreign tech firms will dominate this critical sector", a statement issued by the group said.
The groups wanted the government to completely withdraw from the RCEP deal, review its existing free trade agreements (FTAs), and begin a transparent process of meaningful consultations with Parliament, state assemblies, relevant governmental departments and various affected constituencies such as farmers, workers, women, tribals, fisherfolk, patients and other marginalised groups. "Trade policy should reflect and respond to the needs of citizens and not transnational business class nor political elite", they said.
The groups said it will oppose the government's attempt to be part of RCEP by February 2020.
The RCEP is the most ambitious and far reaching free trade agreement (FTA) that India has negotiated. After seven years of negotiations on 25 chapters that aim to open up and deregulate laws on issues such as agriculture, manufacturing, intellectual property, investment, competition and electronic commerce, India was under tremendous pressure to sign the deal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with heads of state from 15 other RCEP participating countries was expected to take a decision on the deal today. The negotiating countries include the 10 member group ASEAN, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and India.