Statement from the Forum for Trade Justice

4 November 2019, New Delhi

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is the most ambitious and far reaching free trade agreement (FTA) that India has negotiated. After seven years of negotiations on 25 chapters that aim to open up and deregulate laws on issues such as agriculture, manufacturing, intellectual property, investment, competition and electronic commerce, India is now under tremendous pressure to sign the deal. Prime Minister Modi is in Thailand today alongwith heads of state from 15 other RCEP participating countries to take the decision.

The Forum for Trade Justice – a pan India people’s network, is of the opinion that the Government of India should not agree to the RCEP as it will be a bad deal for democracy, for farmers, workers, will subvert our sovereign laws and compromise India’s industrialisation potential, especially in the emerging critical arena of the digital economy. Further RCEP provisions will undermine access to medicines, seeds, quality public services and the government’s ability to regulate foreign investment in the public interest.

There have been unprecedented protests across the country from a wide range of constituencies against the RCEP. This includes national and regional political parties and state governments such as Kerala and Punjab. Industry associations representing the automobile, steel, aluminium, copper, dairy, textiles, pharmaceuticals and the bicycles sector have argued that RCEP will lead to deindustrialisation. Trade Unions have stated that there will be further job losses in labour intensive sectors that are already reeling under heavy import competition and low growth rates. Farmer’s movements representing millions of small and medium farmers across the length and breadth of the country have provided evidence of how international competition in vegetable oil, oil seeds, pepper, cardamom, rubber and coconut products have already devastated livelihoods. Patients groups fear that intellectual property provisions will prevent access to affordable lifesaving generic medicines. If India accedes to demands on free data flows, no customs duties and no data localisation, the promise of digital industrialisation will remain a mirage and foreign tech firms will dominate this critical sector.

Rather than listen to dubious advice and endorse reports that represent narrow interests and perpetuate neo-liberal dogma, the Government should desist from signing the RCEP. Instead the NDA Government, through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, should immediately start a process of democratisation of trade policy, as none of the affected constituencies have been consulted so far. It should make public its assessments of previous FTAs, and begin a transparent process of meaningful consultations with the Union Parliament, state assemblies, relevant governmental departments and various affected constituencies such as farmers, workers, women, tribals, fisherfolk, patients and other marginalised groups. Trade policy should reflect and respond to the needs of citizens and not the transnational business class nor the political elite.

The failure to reach a deal in Nonthaburi today is a victory for people’s movements. It is a sign that the hundreds of protests across the country led by farmer’s movements, trade unions and other groups forced the Indian Government to back off from signing this unequal treaty. The attempt now is to conclude the RCEP by February 2020 and people’s movements will continue to put pressure on the Government to permanently withdraw from free trade deals such as the RCEP and work towards building a more equitable, just and inclusive trade policy.

#NoRCEP | Forum for Trade Justice:   Contact at [email protected]

New Delhi, November 4 : The news that India is holding up the proposed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is clearly due to awareness created and pressure mounted by farmers’ organisations,  People’s Movements, conscientious experts and concerned citizens. Rather than waking up at the eleventh hour the Modi Government should not have participated in the negotiations in the first place. This 16-nation Free Trade agreement poses a grievous threat to the lives and livelihoods of farmers, milk producers, workers, and toilers who sustain and nurture India’s economy.

Industry Associations, Trade bodies and the corporate interest behind them would, of course, support such an agreement. The moot point is Free trade agreements are in no way “free” for farmers, Adivasis, Dalits, workers and others who live off their sweat and blood. It is a myth to believe that the ‘rising tide of trade will lift all boats’ or that trickle down works. Every serious research study and report has only shown the wealth gap is continuously increasing and wealth is only sucked upwards.

The last minute wake up of the Modi government, given its track record of working overtime for corporate interests may only be a ploy for damage control. This government has thus far proved that what it says and does with fanfare, it doesn’t really mean to do, and what it really means to do it does slyly and in the darkness of the night. If the government is really serious it should hold consultations with people and organisations whose lives and livelihoods will be affected.

Economy is already going through a downturn and creating extreme hardships with no jobs, continuing job losses, precarious agriculture production due to incessant rain and draughts. The RCEP negotiations under the pressure of China and other countries will flood the Indian market and will impact the small and marginal businesses and manufacturers and also hurt farmers, diaries, cooperatives and so on. 

Today farmers groups and peoples movements held protest demonstrations across the country at nearly 500 places and sent a clear message that government of India must desist from signing anti people RCEP and withdraw from it completely. 

National Alliance of People’s Movements urges the government to listen and undertake steps to revive the economy and compensate the farmers and workers for crop loss and increase allocations for NREGA, ensure remunerative prices for farm and dairy produce and so on. Numerous suggestions have been given by the coalitions of movements from time to time but government has failed to act on those. We condemn any move by the Prime Minister Modi to push India towards signing RCEP agreements. 

Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM); 

Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, NAPM; 

Dr. Binayak Sen, Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL); Gautam Bandopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha; Kaladas Dahariya,RELAA, NAPM Chhattisgarh; 

Prafulla Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan; Lingraj Azad, Samajwadi Jan Parishad & Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, Manorama, Ant-Posco Movement, NAPM Odisha; 

P. Chennaiah, Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union-APVVU, Ramakrishnam Raju, United Forum for RTI and NAPM, P. Shankar (Dalit Bahujan Front), Vissa Kiran Kumar (Rythu Swarajya Vedika), Chakri (Samalochana), M. Venkatayya(TVVU), Balu GadiBapji JuvvalaMeera Sanghamitra, Rajesh Serupally, NAPM Telangana – Andhra Pradesh;

Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL); Kailash Meena, NAPM Rajasthan;

Sandeep Pandey, NAPM, Richa Singh, Sangatin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan; Arundhati Dhuru, Manesh Gupta, Suresh Rathaur, Mahendra, NAPM, Uttar Pradesh; 

Sister Celia, Domestic Workers Union; 

Gabriele Dietrich, Penn Urimay Iyakkam, Madurai; Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation; Arul Doss,NAPM Tamilnadu; 

Dr. Sunilam, Adv. Aradhna Bhargava, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti; Rajkumar Sinha, Chutka Parmaanu Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti,NAPM, Madhya Pradesh; 

Vilayodi Venugopal, CR Neelakandan, Prof. Kusumam Joseph, Sharath Cheloor, NAPM, Kerala; 

Dayamani Barla, Aadivasi-Moolnivasi Astivtva Raksha Samiti, Basant Hetamsaria, Ashok Verma, Aloka Kujur, NAPM Jharkhand; 

Anand Mazgaonkar, Swati Desai, Krishnakant, Parth, Nita Mahadev, Mudita, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Lok Samiti, NAPM Gujarat; 

Vimal Bhai,Matu Jan sangathan; Jabar Singh, NAPM, Uttarakhand; 

Samar Bagchi, Amitava Mitra, NAPM West Bengal; 

Suniti SR, Suhas Kolhekar, Prasad Bagwe, NAPM, Maharashtra; Bilal Khan, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai, NAPM Maharashtra; 

Anjali Bharadwaj, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), NAPM; 

Faisal Khan, Khudai Khidmatgar, J S Walia, NAPM Haryana; 

Guruwant Singh, NAPM Punjab; 

Kamayani Swami, Ashish Ranjan, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan; Mahendra Yadav,KosiNavnirman Manch; Sister Dorothy, Ujjawal Chaubey, NAPM Bihar; 

Bhupender Singh Rawat, Jan Sangharsh Vahini; Sunita Rani, Domestic Workers Union;Nanhu Prasad, Nirman Mazdoor Union; Rajendra Ravi, Madhuresh Kumar, Himshi Singh, Aryaman, NAPM, Delhi