India's decision to not join RCEP 'ill advised', 'backward leap': Cong's Anand Sharma

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New Delhi, Nov 17 (PTI) Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma on Tuesday described India's decision of not joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as 'unfortunate and ill advised', asserting that it was in the country's strategic and economic interests to be a part of the process of Asia-Pacific integration.

His remarks assume significance as last year after India had decided not to join the RCEP, the Congress had claimed victory, saying its forceful opposition ensured that the BJP government backs out from bartering the interests of farmers, dairy producers, fishermen and small and medium businessmen.

'India's decision of not joining Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (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,' he said.

'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.

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 have signed RCEP agreement and have stated that the pact would remain open to India.

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.

He also expressed dismay over the remarks of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar 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, Chidambaram 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 had said.

'It is another bad example of centralised decision-making unacceptable in a democracy,' Chidambaram had stated. PTI ASK SMN SMN