The 19th round of negotiations on the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which began on Tuesday in Hyderabad, may see some of the most concerted protests by civil society groups so far.
The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement
(FTA) between the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and six others with which this bloc has FTAs, namely, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.
The current round of negotiations is crucial as members are expected to finalise the broad contours of the agreement.
These will include members making their second round of offers on tariff reduction on goods, nations deciding on investment rules, as well as India going against Asean
on market access for the services trade.
Therefore, varied interest groups that oppose parts of the agreement or demand that it be scrapped will be looking to make themselves heard on the streets and convention centres of Hyderabad.
Their concerns include a possible drastic reduction of agricultural tariffs, which may make Indian products unproductive, as well as looser investment norms, exposing the country to litigation from foreign commercial interests.
The production of life-saving generic drugs is being stymied under a barrage of Intellectual Property Rights Regulations, they argue.
These bodies, representing a cross-section of industries and professions, have complained about being shut out of the discussion process of an agreement with wide-reaching consequences for agriculture, trade, investment, and health care.
“We are expecting upwards of a thousand participants in a protest march dressed in black condemning the move by governments to unilaterally hold these discussions without having proper stakeholder consultations,” Ranja Sengupta from the Third World Network, an NGO analysing trade matters, said.
While debates, discussions, and roundtables crowd the agenda, protest marches and sit-ins akin to the mega G20 protests in Hamburg last week are also expected to draw large crowds.
All activities will take place as part of the People’s Summit, a five-day-long series of workshops, protests and consultations being led by the Forum against Free Trade Agreements & RCEP (FAFTA).
“We have repeatedly asked for the formation of a proper mechanism by which stakeholders may be included in all trade negotiations. This time, we have been allowed a meagre amount of time to make our cases before the government during
the negotiations,” Shalini Bhutani of FAFTA said.
Overall, more than 10 NGOs, five unions, including those affiliated to the CPI(M) and Congress, and five other organisations have come together to form an umbrella body called the People’s Resistance Forum.
While various workshops on e-commerce, public services, and labour issues are scheduled, consultations with affected groups such as Dalits and farmers are also on the cards.
Awareness among farmers who might be affected most remained low as compared to other RCEP member nations, an official from the All India Kisan Sabha said. The organisation plans to bring in drought-affected farmers from Telangana, who have suffered multiple crop failures in the past two years.
These have come to underline RCEP protests over the past year as the last couple of negotiation rounds have been witness to, with the last one being in the Philippines.
RCEP in India
The RCEP is a proposed FTA between the 10 Asean countries and six others with which this bloc has FTAs, namely, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand
The current round is crucial as members are expected to finalise the broad contours of the agreement
These will include members making their second round of offers on tariff reduction on goods, nations deciding on investment rules, as well as India going against Asean and China on market access for the services trade
Varied interest groups that oppose parts of it will be looking to make themselves heard on the streets and convention centres of Hyderabad