In India

Internal political opposition to RCEP deal intensifies

Reports suggesting an agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been held up because of new demands from India have come amid intensified political wrangling over the deal in the country.

At a meeting at the Congress Party headquarters on Saturday, party president Sonia Gandhi said any decision by the Indian government to sign the RCEP agreement will bring "untold hardship" to farmers, shopkeepers and small and medium-sized enterprises.

"As if the government's economic decisions have not damaged the economy enough, it is now ready to deal a body blow to it by signing the RCEP... We can ill afford to become a dumping ground for products including agricultural products from foreign countries," she added.

Adding further pressure, the Congress Party also announced it will organise protests in all districts of the country from tomorrow to Nov 15, along with a rally in Delhi next month to highlight economic concerns, including the RCEP.

These comments drew a sharp retort from Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, who reiterated that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is "strong and decisive" and will decide on any agreement "on India's terms and according to what is good for the people and industry".

Domestic factions in the country have long opposed the deal, fearful of an influx of Chinese imports and a surge in imports of primary produce from New Zealand and Australia.

"The writing is clearly on the wall," said Dr Ashwani Mahajan, the national co-convener of Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), referring to the widespread public opposition to RCEP. The SJM is often described as the economic wing of socio-political organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which wields significant influence over the government.

"Because of the India-Asean FTA (free trade agreement), the domestic manufacturing sector has been a big loser, as well as the agricultural sector to a certain extent," he told The Straits Times. "Economics drives politics. So, I don't think the government would take the risk of joining the RCEP when the awareness in the manufacturing, dairy and agricultural sectors is clear that this is not going to be beneficial for their sectors specifically. Moreover, there is a general perception in the country that this deal is not beneficial for the economy."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2019, with the headline 'Internal political opposition to RCEP deal intensifies'. Print Edition | Subscribe