The 19th round of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is holding talks to finalise a mega Free Trade Agreement.

Proposed FTA tramples on workers rights threatens sovereignty Activists protest Hyd meetBy arrangement
news Trade Agreement Friday, July 28, 2017 - 18:46

Hyderabad is currently playing host to 16 countries that have gathered for four days from July 24-28, with the purpose of expanding cross border free trade under the banner of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The 19th round of RCEP is holding talks to finalise a mega Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in which delegates from Asia Pacific nations like China, Australia and Japan are attending.

The convention is aimed at liberalising the investment norms in the region, along with easing trade by removing several tariff and non-tariff barriers.

A delegation from Ministry of Commerce and Industry is representing India at the meet.

Free Trade Agreements and RCEP People's Resistance Forum comprising around 30 organisations like Telangana Farmers JAC, Rythu Swarajya Vedika, Mahila Kisan Adikar Manch (MKAM), Women Rights Forum and AITUC, CITU and Telangana JAC are protesting against the meet because they say it paves the way for "trading by trampling over worker's rights" by multinational companies.

The protesting Forum has organised a parallel peoples’ convention to discuss the outcomes of the RCEP meet if it gets adopted by the government.

Representatives of various organisations including Amit Sengupta from Jan Swasthya Abhiyan; Vijoo Krishnan from All India Kisan Sabha; Yogendra Yadav from Swaraj Abhiyan; M Kodandaram from Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC); and S Ashalatha Mahila from Kisan Adikar Manch were part of the parallel meet.

With the last day of the RCEP meet in progress, these organisations are demanding the disclosure of the minutes of the ongoing negotiations and have alleged lack of transparency.

Kiran Vissa, a member of Resistance Forum, told TNM, "This move will affect the Indian agriculture sector massively and will hit farmers, labour from the unorganised sector."

Vowing to continue their fight, he said, "All stakeholders must be invited for the discussions, there must be a debate on RCEP in the ongoing Parliament session".

With India being an agrarian society, any changes in world trade will directly impact the most marginalised sections, especially women.

Speaking to TNM, S Ashalatha, national committee member of Mahila Kisan Adikar Manch (women farmers outfit) termed the RCEP move as a "threat to women across sections".

She said, "This country has failed to recognise its women farmers, though more than 70% are in the agricultural sector. Women farmers have the practice of preserving seeds but if RCEP succeeds, this will be impacted."

She added, "Developed countries like Australia and Netherlands which are having greater milk production want to intrude into the Indian market. Most of the Self-Help Women Groups are in milk trade and they will lose their lifeline. Across the Asia-Pacific region, it will affect more than 420 million people which is nearly half the world population".

If the RCEP is adopted, it would also make essential drugs costlier which in turn will affect the most vulnerable sections like HIV-AIDS patients.  

Shailly Gupta, Deputy Head, Medicines San Frontiers Access Campaign (India) penned an article in Express PHARMA in which she pointed out that multinational pharma corporations find affordable generic medicines produced in India to be a threat to their profits. Such corporations will use the RCEP, bilateral talks and chalk out deals to advance their profit-oriented motives.

Meanwhile, stakeholders from other countries seem to be unhappy with the speed of negotiations with regard to RCEP. The Hindu reported quoted Phairush Burapachaisri, Board of Trade of Thailand and Thai Chamber of Commerce as saying, "The talks have already missed many deadlines and it looks like the negotiators won’t be able to conclude them this year".

However, experts on international affairs are opining that RCEP is "unhealthy" and a "threat to the sovereignty" of the country.

Speaking on the ongoing RCEP meet, Professor G Haragopal, a senior academician told TNM that it is a "highly uneven development".

He said, "The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is a grouping of 180 nations where it might not be possible to always implement the norms strictly but since the RCEP is having only 16 countries in its ambit, even underdeveloped countries like us will be compelled to follow the rules, which threatens our sovereignty."

Speaking on the rise of the concept of RCEP, he said, "For some reasons WTO failed but now some corporate agencies have come up with this idea and it’s much more dangerous than WTO."

He further said, "Statutory bodies are not part of these multilateral deals, and these agreements made by corporate executives will surely land future generations in trouble."