(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
I have long been suspicious of edits which are passionately pushed in the best of English. Much like that bank clerk who is pushing a scheme when you enter the branch. Those pesky calls for your car insurance, those greetings on WhatsApp from land sharks who have the best view in town just for you. The best of them are those who sell their cause to you as if it was your own.
So it is with RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). I have been noticing in Times of India and Indian Express—Left-Liberals of varying shades—how India’s policy-makers are being lampooned for not signing on. I looked at Mint where economists snack. No different.
The readers are told that India itself flagged off the race nine years ago and has now stopped just short of the finishing line. That how dumb of Modi’s India to cite custom duties on manufacturing when it could benefit from the emerging global supply chain in the times of Coronavirus. That its fears on agriculture and dairy sectors are unfounded since those have been factored in for next 20 years.
And then look at India’s manners. The RCEP nations in a separate document are almost begging us to join the bloc. That China has pledged to import $22 trillion of goods and services over the next decade for its 1.4 billion people. Imagine the market it would offer us. Even China’s “enemies” like Japan and Australia are part of the deal. Is India so dumb it can’t see that RCEP is 30 per cent of global economy and a world population of 2.2 billion people? It is also implicit that India would stay out of Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which is sure to be revived by the US president-elect Joe Biden. Is this “Atmanirbhar Bharat”?
Economists call it protectionism. World is “free and fair”. India is insular. All Modi seeks is win in elections on the turbo-engine of “self-reliant nationalism.” And to hell with how our beloved PV Narasimha Rao and the John Stuart Mill by his side, called Manmohan Singh, took us out of choppy waters of 90s.
Why India is being so stupid? Because it has found out that all those free trades were no help all these years. And how it could be when your manufacturing base is so abysmal? How did those imports help our employment? And how we are supposed to compete when our hands are tied, legs shackled by the mantra of “free trade” even as somebody like China could abnormally subsidize its products and industries?
How come these grave economists never mention that 66 per cent of India’s GDP results from the services sector and the RCEP is heavily loaded against it in favour of merchandizing trade? What significant stuff are we supposed to sell? Are we wrong to assume that it’s a “trojan horse” set up by a Chinese club called RCEP? And that all it would bring is increased import bill and a few million more added to our unemployed?
I would let somebody as erudite as our foreign minister S Jaishankar hold the stage at this moment. Over to him:
“Those calling for increased openness and efficiency are not presenting the full picture (sic). That it’s equally a world of non-tariff barriers of subsidies and state capitalism (reference to China).
“In the name of openness, we allowed subsidized products and unfair advantages from abroad to prevail. And all this while this was justified by the mantra of an open and globalized economy.
“It was quite extraordinary that an economy as attractive as India was allowed the framework to be set by others.
“Past agreements resulted in de-industrialization of some sectors…the choice (for us) was to double down on an approach whose damaging consequences were apparent or to have the courage to think through the problem for ourselves. We chose the latter.
“It will decide if we become an industrial power with what we decide today.
“It is far from turning our back to the world. In fact, it is to enter the global arena with cards to play—not just to provide a market for others.”
Messrs economists, any rejoinder? Silence. Any thoughts why those nations calling for “free and fair trade”, having fattened themselves on protectionism are denying the same diet to India? That others probably want India as a counterweight to China? Silence.
So anyone for Atmanirbhar Bharat? Hands down.