Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an offshoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), will organise a nationwide protest against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between October 10 and 20. It will also submit a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi through district magistrates to build pressure against India joining the trade block.

The SJM’s announcement comes even as a crucial ministerial meeting on RCEP begins in Bangkok today. Even as negotiations are underway on whether India should join the 16 country Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the RSS is vehemently opposed to the trade pact on the grounds that it will have an adverse impact on domestic industries.

Persons aware of the developments told HT that there is a section within the government and the ruling BJP that has advised caution against signing the deal and has also underlined the consequences industries such as the dairy sector will face if Australia and New Zealand are allowed unbridled access to Indian markets.

On Monday, the BJP organised a roundtable with stakeholders to address their apprehensions about signing the trade pact and relayed their concerns to the union government. A day later, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in his annual Dusshera speech also cautioned the government against rushing into the deal and said all trade agreement must be framed on India’s terms.

The issue is also likely to come up at the meeting of Chinese president Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the upcoming India-China Summit in Mahabalipuram.

The SJM, has led the campaign against India joining the trade block which is being negotiated between the 10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and their six free trade agreement (FTA) partners — China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

“The nation is currently facing a crisis in both manufacturing and agriculture which is resulting in a job losses in the country. Though the crisis in the manufacturing is due to the lack of a comprehensive industrial policy since 1991; the FTAs India has signed in the last decade play a major role by allowing 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 USD 104 billion trade deficit RCEP countries and more than half of this was with China,” SJM’s national co convenor Ashwani Mahajan said.

In a statement issued here he said RCEP would effectively function as a FTA with China. “The trade deficit with China is at an alarming level of USD 54 billion. It is a well-known fact that the 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,” Mahajan said.

The SJM has urged the government not to sign RCEP, which would push the present and future generations to joblessness and poverty; publish the studies carried out by the government on the performance of FTA and and publish the parliamentary standing committee report on FTA.

The United Cycle and Parts Manufacturers Association (UCPMA) has also urged the government not to join the trade block, pointing out that the existing bicycle industry is already facing a grave situation because of imports through SAFTA Countries and under value import from China.

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