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Why Civil Society Groups Oppose Regional Economic Partnership Talks

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Even as the central government is taking a fresh look at the performance of the free trade agreements (FTA) operational so far, a network of 75 civil society organisations, grouped under The Forum Against Free Trade Agreements, have cautioned the government against India’s ongoing negotiations with 15 countries for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

In a submission to Nirmala Seetharaman, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, the forum wanted India to be wary of deeper and broader trade liberalisation than that of existing FTAs in region that could follow RCEP. The fifth round of RCEP negotiations is taking place in Singapore from 23 -27 June 2014.

“One of the important concerns with regard to RCEP is that it has the potential to permanently damage the Indian manufacturing sector due to high degree asymmetry in manufacturing capabilities of China, Japan, South Korea and some of the ASEAN Member Countries compared to India”, the submission said. “India may not only fail to gain market access from RCEP but also bears the risk of acceleration of deindustrialization.  Thus the RCEP goes against government’s efforts to revive the Indian manufacturing sector”, it added.

Sixteen countries, which include the 10 ASEAN countries and Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand, are involved in RCEP negotiations. 

The forum also pointed out that India’s aggressive FTA strategy of recent times have led to increasing imports from ASEAN countries and other member countries engaged in RCEP negotiation. “India has substantial negative trade balance with its FTA partners including ASEAN bloc and countries such as Republic of Korea and Japan”, it stated. 

The forum wanted India to restrain from making commitments at RCEP negotiation and declare moratorium on further FTA negotiations till the completion of review of cost and benefit of the existing FTAs. It also wanted India to conduct an impact assessment study to assess the costs and benefits of RCEP and make it available for public scrutiny. “Ensure transparency in  all FTA engagements especially in the RCEP and make RCEP  negotiating texts public”, the forum demands


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