Q1.Why extreme caution is necessary for RCEP negotiations?
With a high rate of poverty, a large rural population consisting mainly of small and marginal farmers and landless labourers, an immature industrial sector, a growing but narrow service sector and vulnerable health and education sectors, India had very rightly maintained a cautious approach in its FTAs on goods, intellectual property rights, and many new issues such as investment, government procurement and competition policy.
India’s cautious approach faces a major paradigm-shift given the current negotiations in RCEP. It has the potential to overthrow India’s policies of rural development and industrialisation especially ‘Make in India’, and to provide accessible healthcare and medicines to all. It also threatens the policy flexibility and sovereignty to pursue independent economic, social and environmental policies.
Trade deficit issue:-
16-member RCEP free trade agreement (FTA) is mostly held up due to India’s reluctance to substantially open up its market to China as it has an unsustainably high trade deficit of $63 billion in 2017-18 with China.
Country needs to rethink joining the RCEP as it will be “disastrous” to provide more market access to China, which is a key player in the grouping
Many countries want India to open up its market for 92% of traded goods, while India is only ready to offer market access up to a maximum of 85% items with deviations for countries like China, Australia and New Zealand with whom it does not have an FTA.
India will also seek China’s help to carve out a more ambitious deal in services under RCEP to which most member countries have shown strong resistance. India believes an ambitious services deal will help it provide job opportunities in RCEP member countries for its millions of skilled professionals at home.
Agriculture and allied products:-
The plantation sector is already reeling from the impact of the India-Asean FTA even with relatively high protection of agriculture and a tariff-coverage of 73-80 per cent.
If tariff cuts cover 92-80 per cent of products, the impact will be huge.
On the other hand, New Zealand’s export-oriented dairy products will decimate India’s growing dairy sector, which is still largely small-scale.
Industrial sector :-
If India offers to reduce/eliminate import tariffs on a larger number of industrial products than already committed to Asean, Japan and South Korea, its industrial sector could be under stress.
Further, India is being asked to eliminate export restrictions on minerals and raw material by Japan and South Korea; this may threaten domestic raw material availability for industrialisation and encourage over-mining.
E-commerce commitments, if any, will allow companies such as Alibaba from China to displace Indian manufacturing especially in the SME segment.
Agreeing to data exclusivity, extending patent terms and unduly strong enforcement measures will weaken the entire generic medicine sector and take away several health safeguards in India’s Patent Act, notably section 3(d). This will make medicines inaccessible not only for Indian patients but for those in the entire developing world.
IP chapter in RCEP is at risk of including provisions far stricter than those mandated by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Q2. What has been India’s experience w.r.t FTAs?
Experience of FTA’s for India :-
Lack of information on FTAs, low margins of preference, delays and administrative costs associated with rules of origin, non-tariff measures, are major reasons for under-utilisation.
When it comes to theIndia-Asean FTA, there is a deterioration of the quality of trade. Apart from the surge in total trade deficit due to tariff cuts, sector wise trade flows also paint a grim picture.
Sectors where trade deficit has worsened account for approximately 75% of India’s exports to Asean.
India has been faring poorly with its FTApartners such as South Korea and Japan.
They were negotiated with little foresight and haven’t brought in sufficient gains.
The poor utilisation rate of the RTAs has only re-enforced India’s belief in the multilateral system led by the WTO, where rules are less complex. It’s the WTO which addresses issues such as anti-dumping and subsidies which are crucial for India.
FTAs are instrumental in creating seamless trade blocs that can aid trade and economic growth.
It will lead to greater trade volume helping with price advantages due to duty waiver etc.
Q3.What are Bioplastics? Briefly explain the different variants of Bioplastics being used and promoted?
Bio-based plastics meansthey are developed form biomass (plants) such as corn, sugarcane, vegetable oil or wood pulp. Biodegradable plastics are those which possess the characteristics of biodegradability and composability.
They can be converted into natural substances like water, carbon dioxide, and compost by the action of micro-organisms in the environment.
Bioplastics are biodegradable materials that come from renewable sources and can be used to reduce the problem of contaminating plastic waste that is suffocating the planet and contaminating the environment.
As an alternative to plastic , the use of bioplastics is being promoted, consisting in obtaining natural polymers from agricultural, cellulose or potato and corn starch waste.
Types of Bioplastics
Bioplastics can be prepared from a variety of materials like starch, sugar, cellulose etc.
Cellulose-based plasticsare made from wood pulp and they are used for making film based materials such as wrappers.
Thermoplasticsare starch based plastics. They are used for production of drug capsules as starch has ability to absorb moisture.
These represent the most widely used bioplastic, constituting about 50 percent of the bioplastics market
Polylactic Acid (PLA)is made from the fermentation of starch from crops. It is used for preparing computer and mobile phone casings, cups, bottles and other packaging.
Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is used for making bank notes and car parts etc.
Polyamide 11 (PA 11)prepared from vegetable oils is used for making oil and gas ﬂexible pipes, and electrical anti-termite cable sheathing etc.
Photo-degradable plastic which degrades on exposure to light.
Q4.Critically examine the impact of Bioplastics on the environment?
Bioplastics are better than petro plastics in terms of fossil-fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency.
Biodegradable plastics are easy to recycle and are non-toxic.
They reduce carbon footprint
They do not involve the consumption of non-renewable raw materials
Their production reduces non-biodegradable waste that contaminates the environment
They do not contain additives that are harmful to health, such as phthalates or bisphenol A
They do not change the flavour or scent of the food contained
These are degradable, equally resistant and versatile, already used in agriculture, textile industry, medicine and, over all, in the container and packaging market, and biopolymers are already becoming popular in cities throughout Europe and the United States for ecological reason.
But in terms ofcost and applicability, bioplastics are inferior to petro plastics.
Bioplastic productionrequires almost 80% of the energy required to produce common plastic.
In 2009, the Central Pollution Control Board tested 10 bioplastic samples but found only40% cleared the test for biodegradability.
Biggest concern about compostable plastic is it would take around 40 days to compost during which time it would have already been ingested by several small animal forms, with a likely injurious impact.
Bioplastic claims biodegradability on exposure to water:-
The only standards on this require that within six months, the plastic must have disintegrated into bits smaller than 2 millimetres and that biodegradation must have progressed so that at least 30% of the carbon has been converted by microorganisms (such as bacteria) into carbon dioxide.
This leaves the plastic to contaminate the seas for six months and more.
And if they touch the bottom of the sea, they may not degrade at all, because it is much colder than the 30 degrees Celsius that is their ideal degradation temperature.
According to scientists, such micro-plastics cause extreme damage to marine life.
People cannot differentiate bioplastics from regular plastics in the trash. In India there is hardly any segregation of wet and dry waste so it is unlikely that even the best bioplastics will be pulled out for treatment.
Not all bioplastics are biodegradable
Instead of revolving around plastics its better in to alternative techniques which are more environment friendly like composting and making people aware about the importance of waste management and protecting environment.