After the Left parties and RSS’s Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the Congress Friday asked the government not to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed free trade agreement between ASEAN countries and its six FTA partners including India and China.
Incidentally, it was the Manmohan Singh government which had decided to join the negotiations for RCEP way back in 2012.
In fact, Singh had, while addressing the 8th East Asia Summit in Brunei in October 2013, said that “the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, launched in Phnom Penh last year, has given us a roadmap for regional economic integration that can reinforce growth and accelerate development across the region, besides enhancing mutual stakes in regional stability and security. India remains fully engaged in and committed to the RCEP process.”
The decision to oppose the RCEP was taken at the first meeting of the high-level panel set up by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to deliberate and craft the party’s strategy on important matters.
Singh attended the meeting which took the decision to oppose RCEP. “We are totally opposed to the RCEP negotiations and agreement,” senior Congress leader A K Antony said after the meeting. “We will seek the cooperation of like-minded parties, Opposition parties to have a common agitation platform against the RCEP,” said AICC general secretary K C Venugopal.
Sources said the party believes that the Haryana Assembly election verdict was a signal that economic anxieties and farm distress have come to hurt the BJP. The party believes it is the right time to exploit those issues which can appeal to farmers and those associated with micro, small and medium enterprises which are likely to be affected once India enters the RCEP agreement.
While the dairy industry has already expressed concern that imports of cheaper milk and milk products from New Zealand could adversely hit milk producers, the MSME sector believes Chinese products will flood the Indian market impacting local business.
Talking to reporters, Antony and Jairam Ramesh said the economic context now was not the same as that was during the UPA time.
“What is the present context? Present context is that all sectors of the economy — agriculture, industry, trade, employment, fisheries — all the sectors of the Indian economy is in deep crisis. I can say catastrophe…In this time, it is the duty of the Government to concentrate fully with all the might and resources of the government to work for the revival of the Indian economy. Instead of doing that, they are now concentrating on these negotiations on RCEP. That we are not supporting,” Antony said.
Ramesh denied any turnaround by the Congress. “We are not doing any U-turn here. When the UPA government negotiated the free trade agreements, the economy was booming. We did not have the economic crisis that we are having today. There was an investment boom. Exports were growing. Today exports are falling, investment is falling…so the economic context was totally different when the UPA negotiated the free trade agreements,” Ramesh said.
RCEP, he said, will be the third jolt to the Indian economy after demonetisation and the hastily implemented GST and added China will be the biggest beneficiary of the agreement.