'Third jolt after note ban, GST': Congress announces protests against RCEP

Jairam Ramesh, Congress leader
The Congress on Friday formally announced nationwide protests against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement.

It also released two letters, one from Amul and another from the National Dairy Development Board, written to Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and the Animal Husbandry Ministry, respectively. The letters, written a couple of months back, had implored the government to protect the interests of the domestic dairy industry.

Congress Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh said the prime minister is set to sign the RCEP, a free trade agreement between 10-member Asean and its six trading partners, including India, in Bangkok on November 4.

Ramesh said the RCEP will be the third jolt to the Indian economy after demonetization and GST. He said there were three chief concerns about the RCEP.

These were –  liberalized import of cheap Chinese goods that will hurt Indian industry; cheap dairy and wheat imports from New Zealand and Australia that could finish India’s dairy cooperatives and its agriculture; and India likely to agree that “national interest” as a consideration for data flow be dropped.

Congress general secretary (organization) K C Venugopal said the party has instructed its state units, farmers’ and trade union frontal outfits to launch awareness drives and protests. He said the Congress will seek cooperation of like-minded parties to have a common agitation platform. The protests against RCEP and economic slowdown will take place from November 5 to 15.

The RCEP negotiations were initiated in 2012 during the tenure of the Manmohan Singh government. However, Ramesh, who had opposed ASEAN-India FTA then as well, said there was no “U turn” on the issue on the part of the Congress. He said the context then and now are different.

“When the UPA Government negotiated the FTAs, the economy was booming. We did not have the economic crisis that we are having today. There was an investment boom, exports were growing. Today, exports are falling, investment is falling. So, the economic context was totally different when UPA negotiated FTAs,” Ramesh said.

The Left parties and Janata Dal (Secular) have also announced protests against RCEP. Sangh Parivar affiliates, including Swadeshi Jagran Manch, and other farmers’ outfits have either launched protests or announced that they would.

In Mysuru, farmers’ organisations protested on Thursday. Karnataka’s Davanagere BJP MP G M Siddeshwara has termed signing the RCEP "disastrous”. Congress leader Veerappa Moily has written to the PM pointing out that landless agricultural labours in India are mainly dependent on dairy farming. In Ludhiana, the city’s bicycle, fastener, sewing machine and plywood manufacturers have asked the government to protest their interests.

Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) Chairman Pramod Kumar Agarwal has said the council has requested the government that finished jewellery be kept out of the purview of the RCEP to protect the interests of domestic manufacturers.

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