[Anubha Sinha, Centre for Internet and Society, Link (CC-BY)] ] The Centre for Internet and Society sent a letter to Members of Parliament on July 27, 2016 to appeal to re-examine the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
To The Hon’ble Chief Minister / Member of Parliament: We are writing to you to draw your attention to the concerns related to India’s engagement in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega-regional trade agreement (MRTA), currently under negotiation. We write as part of a forum on free trade agreements (FTAs), which is a network of over 80 civil society organisations and concerned individuals from across India. It came together in 2008 to analyse the impacts of India’s FTAs on people’s lives & livelihoods.
As you may know, RCEP is a FTA consisting of 10 ASEAN Countries plus Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, China and India. It is a comprehensive FTA dealing with not only tariff cuts but also a range of other issues such as investment, intellectual property rights, e-commerce, services, competition, etc. RCEP has far reaching implications on India’s future economic and social development. India is currently facing huge trade deficit with ASEAN, South Korea, Japan and China. RCEP is expected to worsen the huge trade deficit and damage India’s manufacturing sector.
Similarly, concerns are expressed in the field of intellectual property (IP). Many proposals by Japan and South Korea in the area of IP go well beyond our current national IP legislation, especially the Indian Patents Act 1970. Whereas, the Indian act permits only a narrow scope for patenting of software, the RCEP texts reveal disastrous proposals to hugely widen the scope, which, if accepted could compromise access to technologies in many critical areas. Likewise, Japanese & Korean negotiators’ proposals run contrary to existing Indian copyright legislation. They mandate that all RCEP member countries to increase the term of copyright protection to 70 years from the year of the death of the author. The leaked chapters also envisage strong technological protection measures, without any limitations or exceptions for fair dealing use; creating new rights for making copies for temporary storage and blanket prohibition on re-transmission over the internet. All these changes would be extremely damaging to increasing access to knowledge in a developing country like India.
Further, the proposals also urge RCEP members to become members of another IP agreement on seeds – the UPOV Convention. Firstly, this would be ‘TRIPS-plus’, taking us beyond what WTO requires us to do in the area of seed. Secondly, it will mean going against the ‘farmer’s rights’ provisions in our national law – Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers’ Rights Act (passed by Parliament in 2001 in compliance with WTO).
The leaked investment chapter shows that the proposals are going against India’s current position on investment treaties. India has developed a model BIPA text. India has also re-negotiating 57 of its 83 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) on the basis of its new model BIPA & to avoid one-sided approach to protecting investor’s interest. But demands being made in RCEP, may push us beyond our position on investments as well, for example, on the investor-state dispute mechanism.
The RCEP talks have picked up pace, hence the appeal to you to get involved.
Since 2013 RCEP negotiations have completed 13 rounds. The 14th round of negotiations is to take place in Vietnam on 15th of August. The Chief negotiators from each of the 16 countries are meeting 18-19th July in Jakarta, Indonesia. The upcoming RCEP Ministerial meeting on 5th August at Laos is expected set the new deadline for the conclusion of the negotiation.
However, there are no studies available in the public domain with regard to the implications of RCEP on India. In reply to an RTI query, Government denied existence of any cost and benefit analyses of RCEP. Similarly, there is no consultation with State governments with regard to RCEP and no texts are available in the public domain. Against this background we request you to take initiative:
to demand socio-economic assessment of RCEP on India’s development, especially on poor and marginalised populations, including implications for women & children
- To ask for wider consultations on RCEP including consultations with state governments and ordinary people (such stakeholder consultations have already been held with industry bodies).
- To make publicly available all the negotiating texts and institutionalise the process of making them open.
- To ensure discussion on the cost and benefits of FTAs in general and RCEP in particular in both houses of the Parliament, including in the relevant Parliamentary Standing Committee.
- To demand a while paper on India’s experience – costs and benefits, from FTAs with Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and ASEAN.
Anticipating your kind attention on this urgent matter.
Centre for Internet & Society