The Congress today decided to oppose the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement that India is likely to sign in Bangkok next month, saying it will prove to be "suicidal" as the time is not right for the pact which will increase imports from China.
Addressing a press conference after a meeting of the 18-member group of leaders on important issues, senior Congress leaders AK Antony, KC Venugopal, Jairam Ramesh and Randeep Surjewala said the party would launch an agitation across the country along with like-minded parties and form a common platform on the issue.
Top party leaders earlier deliberated on the issue, besides discussing the state of the economy and the crisis in the farm sector. The party also discussed the outcome of the election results in Maharashtra and Haryana and discussed its strategy for the upcoming Parliament session and how to corner the government.
It also decided to oppose the citizens amendment bill that the government proposes to bring.
Mr Antony said the issue of economic slowdown is a burning issue that concerns the whole country and all sections of the society.
"As a party that is always sensitive to the people's concerns, the Congress is totally opposed to the RCEP negotiations and agreement," he said.
"Our country is heading for a deep economic crisis and slowdown. It affects almost all sectors of the Indian economy. Agriculture, employment, industry and trade and all other sectors of Indian economy are day by day heading for crisis. This is the time for the government to be responsible," he added.
Mr Antony said it is the duty of the government of the day that it concentrate on fully deploying all its resources for speedy economic revival.
He alleged that the government's priorities are wrong and it is not concentrating on addressing difficulties of the common people and the sectors of Indian economy.
When people are struggling even to manage their day-to-day life, instead of speedy solution and a package and a programme for economic revival, they are now spending time discussing Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, he said.
Congress leader KC Venugopal said the dangers of the RCEP agreement were discussed. He added that farmers were in distress and it was going to worsen their life, as well as those of fishermen, besides making worse their living conditions.
"The Congress has decided to hold massive a demonstration throughout the country. We have already given instructions to our PCC units to have a massive agitation programme and awareness campaign about this RCEP agreement," he said.
"Definitely we will seek the cooperation of the like- minded parties, opposition parties to have a common agitation platform against RCEP. The Congress has already given direction to the Pradesh Congress Committees to hold demonstrations between November 5 and 15 on economic slowdown and unemployment."
"We will have a massive programme in Delhi while culminating the agitation. We are not going to allow the government to go ahead with this agreement," Mr Venugopal said.
To a question on RCEP negotiation, Jairam Ramesh said "texts are negotiated, contexts are given". He alleged that "national interest" has been removed from the current draft of RCEP.
"When our economy is going through a bad phase, liberalising imports, signing RCEP is a suicide. The economy is sinking and the prime minister is going to sign the RCEP. It will be a mess," he alleged.
He denied that the Congress had made a U-turn on the issue and said "signing the RECP is like committing suicide".
"We are not making any U-turn here. When the UPA government negotiated free trade agreements, the economy was booming. We did not have the economic crisis that we are having today. There was an investment boom, exports were growing. Today, exports are falling, investment is falling, so, the economic context was totally different when UPA negotiated free trade agreements," he said.
Mr Surjewala said PM Modi is planning to sign RCEP pact, which will have a lot of consequences for the Indian economy. He said that the country's trade deficit was $ 120 billion, if it went ahead with the free trade agreement, it would worsen further.
"After RCEP, China will directly or indirectly sell their cheap goods in large numbers in India and harm our local industries. Also after this, our export of personnel may not be possible in these countries, because they might put them in sensitive list."
"The Congress feels that RCEP is not in the best interest of our nation. Today, when strengthening the country's economy should be our goal, it is neither fair nor rational to sign a free trade agreement. It needs to be reconsidered," Mr Surjewala said.
Mr Ramesh earlier said: "This will be the third blow to our economy after demonetisation and hastily implemented GST."
He expressed fear that the RCEP would liberalise imports from China and encourage "Made in China". He also shared a letter written by the managing director of Amul, Gujarat Cooperative Milk producers.
An 18-member group of leaders, set up by Sonia Gandhi which includes former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi besides other top leaders, met at her 10 Janpath residence to hold discussions on key issues facing the country. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was a last-minute entry in the group, who attended the meeting.