From the Viewsroom

RCEP negotiations: India must make its position transparent

Amiti Sen | Updated on October 31, 2019 Published on October 31, 2019

Negotiations that are secretive are seldom beneficial for the people. The FTA that India signed with the ASEAN in 2009 is a case in point

India’s position on the highly ambitious Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact it is negotiating with 15 others, including China, remains shrouded in mystery even as top leaders from most of the participating nations are keen to make an announcement on its completion at a Summit meeting in Bangkok next week.

While on one hand Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal has stressed that India will not be forced by time-lines into agreeing to a pact, on the other he criticised the “fear-psychosis” being created around free trade agreements (FTAs) and warned against being globally isolated.

The minister also said that people should wait and see how things progress in negotiations before expressing views based on “half-baked” information.

The ASEAN deal

The problem with this logic is that it could lead to a situation when it becomes too late for people to protest and intervene and the deed is already done. Negotiations that are secretive are seldom beneficial for the people. A good example at hand is the FTA that India signed with the ASEAN in 2009.

Had there been enough protests and criticism, the UPA government could not have signed a pact so heavily loaded against India. The hiving-off of the services and investments section into a pact separate from the goods chapter ensured that India did not get anything substantial in services while giving away market access in goods to the ASEAN nations. A decade later it is obvious to everyone that it was the ASEAN that benefited disproportionately from the agreement.

Keep people in the loop

It is very well for the BJP to say that it is a much stronger government and would protect all vulnerable sectors, but the fact remains that India is dealing with China, apart from the ASEAN, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, in the RCEP, and majority of the Indian industry and farmers are apprehensive of a sharp rise in imports once tariffs are demolished.

So, it is natural and beneficial for those who may be adversely hit to raise their voice and find champions not only for the government to take notice but also for other negotiating countries to understand the constraints being faced by Indian negotiators back home.

The BJP government should indeed learn from the mistakes made by the UPA in the past and keep the people of the country by its side by ensuring total transparency in negotiations.

The writer is a Deputy Editor with BusinesLine

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Published on October 31, 2019
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