New Delhi: Farmers and farmer leaders burned an effigy of Union commerce minister Piyush Goyal as a sign of protest against the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) here on Thursday.
Protesters led by the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh - a coalition of over 180 farmer organisations from across the country - gathered at Jantar Mantar to register their protest.
The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement among 16 nations which includes the 10 Asean countries in addition to India, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. It is aimed at rationalising and standardising trade tariffs among these nations. As Minister for Commerce, Goyal, is in charge of negotiating the deal on India's behalf.
Farmers are concerned that the agreement could hurt their cause as cheaper imports from other nations producing commodities at a comparative advantage are likely to flood Indian markets, thereby reducing the value realised by local producers.
Jagjeet Singh Dallewal, the co-convenor of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh estimates that the price of milk sold by Indian farmers would drop by Rs 10 a litre if cheaper milk from New Zealand, freed of import duties, made its way to Indian shores.
"On one side Prime Minister Narendra Modi says that he will double farmers' income but on other hand he is forcing farmers towards suicide by importing agriculture products under such free trade agreements," said Dallewal.
The Swadeshi Jagram Manch (SJM), which is an affiliate of the BJP's ideological parent the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has also opposed the trade agreement. The SJM has announced a 10-day nation wide protest against the RCEP, starting Thursday.
"The nation is currently facing a crisis in both in manufacturing and agriculture which is resulting in job losses in the country. The crisis in the manufacturing sector is due to the lack of a comprehensive industrial policy since 1991," the co-convenor of SJM, Ashwini Mahajan said.
The minister for agriculture and farmers' welfare Narendra Singh Tomar has also urged Piyush Goyal, who is heading to Bangkok to take part in a RCEP negotiation, to protect the farmers' interest. "We have given our inputs to the commerce ministry. We have communicated that farmers' interest is our priority and that must be kept in mind," said Tomar.
Not just farmers, trader organisations have also expressed their reservations with proposed free trade agreement. Recently, the confederation of All India Traders wrote to Modi urging him to keep dairy products outside the purview of the agreement.
Concerned over opposition to the proposed RCEP, Modi recently met with key ministry officials to discuss the progress on the agreement. The agreement is also likely to be a key feature of Modi's bilateral meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping who is likely to seek India's unrestricted commitment to the deal.
The Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh will continue its opposition to the RCEP with a 'road roko' across the country planned for November 2. From October 18, farmers across the country are also likely to wear black markers on their clothing as a symbol of their opposition to the free trade agreement.