New Delhi: Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an affiliate of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has announced a 10-day nationwide protest, starting Thursday, against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — a proposed free trade agreement between ten member states of ASEAN and its six FTA partners.
The announcement comes three days after Mohan Bhagwat, 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. The opposition by SJM is important because this is the first time that a nationwide protest has been organised by SJM against the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
“The nation is currently facing a crisis in both manufacturing and agriculture which is resulting in a job losses in the country. Though the crisis in the manufacturing is due to the lack of a comprehensive industrial policy since 1991," said Ashwini Mahajan, co-convener of SJM, in a statement on Thursday.
“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," Mahajan added.
While the WITS (World Integrated Trade Solutions-World Bank) Comtrade data shows the deteriorating trend in the trade deficit, India’s trade balance to total trade ratio deteriorated from -17.5% to -22.6% with respect to ASEAN, -43% to -56.2% for South Korea, and -30% to -44.9% for Japan, Mahajan said. RCEP would further deteriorate the situation, he added.
“SJM rejects the fallacy of global value chains (GVC). For those who are advocating RCEP as an instrument to facilitate India's integration with GVC, we would like to state that global or local, production value chains are not a homogenous string of production process; they are value chains driven by very large multinational companies which produce the final finished goods and reap maximum benefit out of that chain," the statement said
Members of the SJM said apart from protest in every district, public awareness programmes and meetings with like-minded trade unions, student groups and intellectuals will be organized across the country. SJM leaders said a memorandum would also be submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in every district of the country. The 10-day long protest will continue till 20 October.
Members of the SJM have also asked the union government to urgently publish the studies carried out by the organisation on the performance of FTA and to finalise and publish the parliamentary standing committee report on it.
On Monday, Prime Minister Modi had met Home Minister Amit Shah, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Hardeep Singh Puri, to discuss the progress of negotiations for the proposed RCEP.