As the 19th round of trade negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) take place in Hyderabad, India, from 17-28 July, trade unions and civil society organizations in the country have joined forces to voice their concerns over the trade deal, and called for more transparency.
RCEP is a proposed mega regional free trade agreement (FTA) currently being negotiated by 16 countries including ASEAN members and its six FTA partners namely India, China and Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
The 16 RCEP participating countries account for almost half of the world’s population, almost 30 per cent of global GDP and over a quarter of world exports.
RCEP negotiations consist of roughly 23 chapters and aim to rewrite trade and regulatory rules in areas including trade in agricultural and industrial goods, investment, intellectual property rights, services, competition policies and e-commerce.
At a convention held on 23 July, under the banner ‘People’s Resistance Forum against FTAs and RCEP’, 600 people from across India representing trade unions, farmers, agricultural workers, patient groups, public health activists, NGOs, street vendors, human rights activists, academics and many others, gathered in Hyderabad and resolved to build a broad based people’s movement to resist the RCEP.
Participating in the convention, S.Q. Zama of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Indian National Metalworkers’ Federation, said:
“RCEP the mega FTA will have serious implications for workers’ rights and will limit government’s policy space to formulate suitable development and employment policies. We oppose the investor state dispute settlement provisions as they shift the rules of the global economy in favour of corporations and against workers. We call for transparency and democratic process in the RCEP negotiations. Trade unions will join hands with people’s movements to resist RCEP in its present form.”
The action-packed week also witnessed a protest march on 24 July with around 1,000 demonstrators, sectoral workshops and discussions on issues such as RCEP and its impact on workers’ rights, agriculture, public services and e-commerce. Some representatives also participated in the stakeholder consultation with the RCEP trade negotiating committee. They shared concerns from respective sectors, strongly criticized the limited space created for stakeholder intervention and called for transparency and democratic process.