New Delhi, Nov 18 : Congress continues to be split wide open on the RCEP issue with different leaders taking different postures on whether to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership even though a year has gone by since the party took a stand on the deal that has now neen signed sans India.
All the Congress’ posturing though continues even after on November 15, following eight years of hard negotiations, the ASEAN nations (comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) signed the trade pact with five FTA partners — China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The Congress had urged the government not to join it. As India stayed out after walking away from it last year.
The issue remained open to debate as the party awaited the stand of former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who had kept his view reserved till Tuesday wishing the party took a considered view.
While Anand Sharma has termed not joining the RCEP “a backward leap”, naysayer Jairam Ramesh said that the not joining the economic deal meant the party’s stand has been vindicated.
On October 21, 2019, Ramesh had described India’s imminent membership of RCEP as the third setback(jhatka) for the economy after “demonetisation and botched GST”.
“A year later the position of INC India — then demanding that the PM not drag India into an unfair RCEP, as was being planned — stands vindicated,” Ramesh said.
The Congress has argued that the regional economic deal “will kill the domestic industry” and as it the “economy has not been booming as it was during the UPA regime”.
But for Ramesh’s party colleague, Sharma, who negotiated the RCEP as Commerce Minister — not joining the regional accord — is a backward leap.
“India’s decision of not joining the RCEP is unfortunate and ill-advised. It is in India’s strategic and economic interests to be a part of the process of Asia-Pacific integration,” Sharma said.
“Withdrawal has negated years of persuasive negotiations for India to be accepted as part of RCEP. We could have negotiated safeguards to protect our interests. Keeping out of the RCEP is a backward leap,” added Sharma.
Sharma’s statement comes after Chidambaram criticised the Modi’s government stand on RCEP but said that he will reserve his decision till the Congress takes official position on the issue.
Chidambaram had also expressed his dismay over the speech by Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar on Monday, where he rallied against trade agreements and praised the virtues of protectionism.
“Mr Jaishankar is speaking in the language and in the words that I heard in the 1970s and 1980s,” Chidambaram said.
“There are pros and cons to India joining the RCEP. But the debate has never taken place in Parliament or among the people or involving the opposition parties. It is another bad example of a centralised decision-making unacceptable in a democracy,” Chidambaram added.
However, the Congress had raised concern over joining the RCEP, that became the world’s largest trading body of 15 nations in the Asia-Pacific region.