December 1: As negotiators from 16 nations met today in New Delhi for 5 day consultations on the Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP), Farmers, Trade unions, retailers groups, and civil society organisations protested outside the India Expo Mart in Greater Noida. Amidst a large police presence, protestors, raised slogans such as ‘Protect Indian Agriculture: Say No to RCEP FTA’, ‘Stop Undemocratic RCEP FTA’ , ‘ Protect Indian Dairy Sector’ , ‘If FTAs benefits people why are texts kept secret’ , ‘ No secrecy – We Want Transparency’. Later, a delegation submitted a memorandum (attached letter) to the Government officials negotiating the RCEP.
The RCEP is a complex North South Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that India is negotiating with the 10 member ASEAN block plus Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Rakesh Tikait of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU)said that the RCEP FTA will seriously affect Indian agriculture. ‘ Indian agriculture is in deep crisis and a large number of farmers continue to commit suicide. The Government’s free trade strategy is flawed. If RCEP is concluded, it will intensify the crisis in agriculture. The Government has not conducted any impact assessment of already concluded FTAs. We do not want the government to go ahead with RCEP agreement even without knowing what implications it will have on Indian agriculture’, said Tikait.
Vijoo Krishnan of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) said that the India ASEAN FTA has seriously affected South Indian farmers. Now the RCEP with 15 other countries, will affect farmers across India. Countries like Australia, New Zealand want to export their dairy products to India. If the negotiations go through, it will have a disastrous impact. We demand that the government stop its engagement on RCEP.
Yudhvir Singh, Convener of Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement said, ‘farmers’ organisations in India oppose the RCEP FTA. We are concerned that RCEP will increase imports of agricultural products into India. We are also worried that farmers’ access to affordable medicines may also be affected. The Government of India has not consulted farmers’ organisations before going ahead with RCEP negotiations. This kind of secrecy in the 21st century is not acceptable’.
Afsar Jafri from Focus on the Global South said that, the NDA government is merely following the free trade path laid out by the UPA regime. He argued that the Commerce Minister had said that the Government will conduct a review of all FTAs. ‘But it has not come out with any socio economic impact assessment of FTAs. All negotiations are kept secret, away from public scrutiny. Every decision taken at these secret negotiations will affect peoples’ lives. We want transparency in trade negotiations, he added.
Dharmendra Kumar of India FDI watch expressed concern that RCEP negotiations may change India’s position on FDI in retail policy. Further India ASEAN FTA had adverse impact on India’s manufacturing sector. The promises to create manufacturing sector and provide jobs through SEZs has also failed. Government failed to learn lessons from adverse impact of already concluded FTAs and now aggressively pursuing the free trade policy and signing mega FTAs like RCEP.
Protestors demanded the government to make public all RCEP documents and negotiating texts. They called on the government to hold public consultations with all who will be directly affected by RCEP including farmers’ organizations, trade unions, patient groups, generic medicine manufacturing companies, SMEs and civil society organisations. As many subjects discussed under RCEP fall under state subjects, protestors demanded that the government must hold consultations with state governments and evolve consensus.
For any queries, contact:
Vijoo Krishnan, All India Kisan Sabha, (AIKS): email@example.com, 9818864006
G. Manicandan, Forum Against FTAs, firstname.lastname@example.org, 9868319261
Afsar Jafri, Focus on the Global South, email@example.com, 9582070803
Dharmendra Kumar, India FDI Watch: firstname.lastname@example.org, 9871179084