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Tussle within government sharpens over joining RCEP

Ever since RCEP negotiations started six years ago, experts from participating countries have had 28 rounds of negotiations, the last being at Da Nang, Vietnam, from September 19 - 27

twitter-logo Joe C Mathew        Last Updated: October 11, 2019  | 17:17 IST
Tussle within government sharpens over joining RCEP

Amidst the vocal protest against India's plans to join the mega regional trade deal -Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - by RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), Union Minister of Commerce & Industry and Railways, Piyush Goyal will attend the 9th RCEP Intersessional Ministerial meeting on 11-12 October in Bangkok. This will be the last ministerial before RCEP leaders meet in Bangkok on November 4 for likely announcement of the conclusion of negotiations.

Ever since RCEP negotiations started six years ago, experts from participating countries have had 28 rounds of negotiations, the last being at Da Nang, Vietnam, from September 19 - 27. Of 25 chapters of RCEP Agreement, 21 have been concluded. Chapters that talk about rules relating to Investment, Electronic Commerce, Rules of Origin and Trade Remedies are still remaining.  The forthcoming Ministerial will discuss pending issues and take stock of preparations for the Leaders Summit next month.

The opposition to India signing RCEP has been so stiff that commerce minister Goyal had to hold several consultations with Indian industry to firm up India's position without ignoring concerns and sensitivities. The focus of these meetings was to put in place appropriate safeguards including auto-trigger mechanism against sudden surge in imports from RCEP countries.

Meanwhile, SJM has announced nationwide protest against RCEP between 10-20 October in all district centres and called upon affiliated and like-minded organisations and individuals to join the protest.

SJM states that the free trade agreements (FTAs) India signed in the last decade have resulted in cheap imports and hollowing out of Indian manufacturing. "In 2018-19, India had a trade deficit with 11 of the 15 RCEP negotiating countries. In the previous year India had a $104 billion trade deficit with RCEP countries and more than half of this was with China. Further, WITS (World Integrated Trade Solutions-World Bank) Comtrade data shows the deteriorating trend in the trade deficit. India's trade balance to total trade ratio deteriorated from -17.5% to -22.6% with respect to ASEAN, -43% to -56.2% for South Korea, and -30% to -44.9% for Japan. RCEP would further deteriorate the situation" Ashwani Mahajan, co-convener, SJM says.

The critics also point out that RCEP would effectively function as an FTA with China. "The trade deficit with China is at an alarming level of $54 billion. It is a well-known fact that non-tariff barriers are the main cause of denial of market access to China. There is nothing in the RCEP to effectively discipline the non- tariff barriers (such as Mutual Recognition Agreements) and its exclusive focus on tariff reduction would be bringing an end to Indian manufacturing. From news reports, there is already agreement reached to the elimination of 80 per cent of tariffs for goods from China with duties on 28 per cent of goods being eliminated immediately", SJM says.

SJM called upon the government to not to sign RCEP which would push the present and future generations to joblessness and poverty, urgently publish studies carried out by the government on the performance of FTA and finalise and publish the parliamentary standing committee report on FTA.

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