Congress leader Anand Sharma.(HT archive)
Congress leader Anand Sharma.(HT archive)

India’s move on RCEP ill-advised, says Congress leader Anand Sharma

Congress president Sonia Gandhi had last year stated that signing the RCEP agreement will deal a “body blow” to the economy and result in “untold hardship” for farmers, shopkeepers and small enterprises
By HT Correspondent | Edited by Smriti Sinha | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 18, 2020 09:15 AM IST

Taking a divergent stand from his party, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma on Tuesday said India’s decision of not joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was “unfortunate and ill advised”.

He insisted that it was in the country’s strategic and economic interests to be a part of the process of Asia-Pacific integration.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi had last year stated that signing the RCEP agreement will deal a “body blow” to the economy and result in “untold hardship” for farmers, shopkeepers and small enterprises.

“The cavalier attitude comes at a price, a price that millions of our fellow Indians, especially the unemployed youth and farmers, are having to endure. As if economic decisions have not damaged the economy enough, it is now ready to deal a body blow to it by signing RCEP,” she had told party leaders in a meeting.

Sonia Gandhi also said the RCEP will result in untold hardship for farmers, shopkeepers, and small and medium enterprises.

Also read | Congress says it’s not part of Gupkar alliance

But on November 4 last year, India walked out of mega free trade agreement RCEP as negotiations failed to address New Delhi’s outstanding issues and concerns. The remaining 15 member countries had signed RCEP agreement and have stated that the pact would remain open to India.

The Congress had then claimed victory, saying its forceful opposition ensured that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government backed out from bartering the interests of farmers, dairy producers, fishermen and small and medium businessmen.

“Our voice played a major role in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden and hypocritical discovery of Gandhiji’s talisman in Bangkok,” Sonia Gandhi had later said, addressing a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party in the Parliament House complex in November last year.

But on Tuesday, Sharma, one of the 23 Congress dissenters who wrote a letter to the party chief in August this year seeking internal elections and organisational overhaul, struck a divergent note. “India’s decision of not joining 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,” he said.

“Withdrawal has negated years of persuasive negotiations for India to be accepted as part of RCEP,” Sharma added.

“We could have negotiated safeguards to protect our interests. Keeping out of the RCEP is a backward leap,” said Sharma, who had been closely involved in RCEP negotiations in his capacity as the commerce and industry minister in the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh.

Former finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram also aired his views on India not joining RCEP on Tuesday, but said he would give a final view only when his party has taken a considered position on the issue.

“My guarded tweet yesterday on India not being member of RCEP has been noticed by many. Every English language newspaper that I read has carried an editorial today that India would be better off by being a part of RCEP,” he tweeted.

“I would reserve a final view until the Congress party has taken a considered position on the issue,” Chidambaram said.

But he expressed dismay over external affairs minister S Jaishankar’s remarks at the Deccan Dialogue on Monday, saying the minister “railed 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 in a series of tweets. On Monday, he had tweeted, “RCEP born, it is the world’s largest trading body. 15 nations in our region are members of RCEP, India is not among them. There are pros and cons to India joining RCEP, but the debate has never taken place in Parliament or among the people or involving the Opposition parties,” he said.

“It is another bad example of centralised decision-making unacceptable in a democracy,” Chidambaram added.

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