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Inputs from RSS and farmers association stopped Modi govt from being a part of RCEP, world’s largest free trade agreement

In his address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said the present form of the RCEP Agreement "does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles" or India's concerns.

On Monday, the Indian government announced that it will not be part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP, which will be the world’s largest free trade pact of 16 nations.

In his address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said the present form of the RCEP Agreement “does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles” or India’s concerns.

PM Modi had cited the interests of farmers, traders, professionals, industries and workers, who have a stake in such decisions. He said, “When I measure the RCEP Agreement with respect to the interests of all Indians, I do not get a positive answer. Therefore, neither the Talisman of Gandhiji nor my own conscience permits me to join the RCEP”.

However, the biggest opposition to the RCEP deal with the ASEAN and its five other free-trading partners did not arrive from any political party. The serious opposition from BJP’s ideological mentor – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), along with various other bodies, who had vehemently expressed reservations about the deal, made Modi government to alter its position with regards to the proposed free trade agreement.

Read: Days after Piyush Goyal reassured that interests of India will be protected, Modi reinforces that by not joining RCEP as key concerns were not addressed

Though industries and traders had mixed opinion on whether India should join the largest free-trade initiative, the farmer associations and the Sangh’s affiliates, especially Swadeshi Jagran Manch were categorically opposed to the signing of any such deals which could harm India’s interest. In fact, the inputs given by the Sangh and various other bodies acted as enablers for Modi government to pull out from the RCEP, which would have given free-access of Indian markets to countries like China.

The RSS and its affiliates had cautioned against yielding too much in the trade deal especially with the domestic industry itself actually becoming a handicap for Indian negotiators. The other key drawback has been to use the RCEP as an opportunity to seek market access with China, with which India has a huge trade deficit and which has always fobbed off India’s requests in the past.

Sangh Parivar’s opposition to RCEP:

Sangh Parivar affiliates have been constantly opposing India’s joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed free trade zone of 10 south-east Asian nations and six big trading partners in the area.

Since from the beginning, Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) an affiliate of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, requested the government to stay away from RCEP, and always alerted the ills coming in the way. In October, the SJM had announced a 10-day nationwide protest against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The announcement by the SJM came just three days after Mohan Bhagwat, the Sarsanghchalak of RSS, the ideological parent of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), spoke about promoting swadeshi in his annual Dusshera speech and also cautioned the government against rushing into the deal. In his speech, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had emphasised on upholding Swadeshi consciousness and steps to improve the economy by creating employment.

Read: All you wanted to know about the RCEP, the trade deal forming the world’s largest economic block

According to the SJM, the RCEP would have undone various good works done by the NDA government under Modi in the last six months. The agreement would have killed the ‘Make In India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Skill India’ and various other avenues of job creation, the Sangh’s economic wing said.

“The free trade agreements (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 with RCEP countries and more than half of this was with China,” said Ashwini Mahajan, co-convener of SJM.

Following the protest from the RSS affiliates, BJP organisation general secretary BL Santosh had chaired a meeting of various stakeholders on the issue of India becoming a member of RCEP.

Sangh affiliates like Swadeshi Jagran Manch and bodies engaged in dairy, agriculture and manufacturing sectors like steel and telecom fear that countries like China, Australia and New Zealand will ruin these businesses and create unemployment. The matter was flagged during the meeting convened by Santosh and BJP spokesperson Gopal Agarwal on Monday evening.

Those opposed to RCEP maintain that China would dump its goods in India and the steep fall in prices will impact the indigenous industry, leading to increasing unemployment and losses.

On Monday, following the withdrawal from the RCEP, the SJM issued a statement thanking the Narendra Modi government. “Staying away from RCEP is a decision in favour of the country’s small businesses, farmers, dairy, data security and manufacturing sector. SJM thanks PM Modi for showing great diplomatic farsightedness in terming the present text of the negotiations not in favour of people of India,” the statement said.

Farmers and Allied sectors:

Similarly, farmers associations like All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a coalition of over 250 farmer organisations in the country, had planned a nationwide protest and warned the government against going ahead with the inclusion of agriculture in the RCEP free trade agreement.

As the Modi government decided not to join the RCEP, the industry, traders and farmers’ associations appreciated the Modi government’s decision.

Read: Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements welcomes India not joining RCEP, calls for withdrawal from all negotiations and FTAs

Commenting on the move, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said that it was happy that “good sense” has prevailed on the government and its decision to barter away the life and livelihood of crores of farmers, workers, and small businesses, has been averted.

“AIKSCC sincerely hopes that this Government will not try any back-door method of sabotaging the interest of Indian farmers and farm-workers through trade deals,” it said in a statement.

The country’s leading milk supplier Amul described the move as “landmark”. The dairy industry had expressed apprehension that the 16-nation trade pact would severely impact dairy farmers because of cheaper imports from Australia and New Zealand.

Dairy major Amul MD RS Sodhi described the move as “daring” and “landmark” which will protect the interest of 10 crore farmers engaged in the production of milk and related products.

The RCEP is Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is a proposed free trade agreement between the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its six FTA partners – China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

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