RCEP is going to have cascading effects on the farmers, and small and medium scale industries.
WTO 2.0 negotiations in the form of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are taking place in Hyderabad. The RCEP comprises of 16 countries (10 ASEAN members + China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea). The regulations under RCEP are far more stringent than the WTO’s. Moreover, RCEP negotiations are taking place in complete secrecy. WTO Documents were made available to experts and activists. This made possible for them to bring to the notice of the public –the consequences of these agreements. In the case of RCEP, the documents are not available to anyone other than the participating governments.
A ‘People’s Summit against RCEP and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)’ is being held in Hyderabad to spread awareness of RCEP’s adverse impact on the people and the economy. Speaking at the summit, Vijoo Krishnan from All India Kisan Sabha, said that RCEP is going to have cascading effects on the farmers, and small and medium scale industries. He cited the example of India’s FTA with Sri Lanka where the prices of spices fell by more than 50%. The cheaper pepper from Vietnam was routed into India through Sri Lanka, because of the FTA. Even in the case of coffee and tea, the prices to the farmers fell. Coffee was bought from the farmer at ₹ 20 a kg and a particular blend of coffee was sold by Nescafe at ₹5600 per kg. He went on to say that the prices of the commodities sold by corporates have never come down but only the farmers suffer.
The activists from the health sector say that in India the prices for medicines were very high till the 1960s. After a long struggle by activists, government was forced to encourage and manufacture good quality medicines at cheap prices. But with the FTAs like RCEP, we are going to lose access to affordable medicine. Speaking to Newsclick, Leena Menghaney of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said, “Competition is crucial to make drugs affordable and we have seen that in the case of HIV/AIDS that the cost of medicines was $ 15,000- 20,000 per patient per year, and we were able produce this in India at prices under $100 per patient per year.” She goes on to say that Intellectual property rights should not be part of the FTAs and that the access to cheaper medicines should be preserved by India.
The summit was represented by more than 50 organisations – unions, movements, research organises and advocacy groups. Speaking at one of the workshops, Charles Wesley Meesa of National alliance of Dalit Organisations said that the victim of FTAs and privatisation in the country would be the Dalits, as they are going to be thrown out from farms, jobs and education. He said the way forward is to uphold the Indian Constitution and stick to the principals of social justice and state socialism. The hawking and petty trade provides employment to 4 crore people and is the second largest provider of employment in India after the agriculture according to Saktiman Ghosh of National Hawkers Federation. He said that they oppose the RCEP and FTAs as it will make street vendors and hawkers illegal for the benefit of big shopping stores. And, if their livelihoods were affected, they will lead a struggle against it.
Many known activists and leaders like Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan and Kodanda Ram of Telangana JAC, participated in the summit.
At the closing of the summit a massive protest march was organised on July 24 at People’s Plaza, Hyderabad. Activists under the banner of Positive Women’s Network, Delhi Network of Positive People also held a flash protest at the location of the RCEP negotiations, Novotel Hotel. The unexpected protest took the police by surprise as a 3-layer security was put in place to prevent any protest at the venue. The protesters were later vacated from the hotel premises, arrested and taken away in the police van.