06 Nov 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) On India opting out of RCEP: Safe, for now
- India eventually decided to play it safe by pulling out at the last minute from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which was finalised by 15 countries in Bangkok on Monday.
- The pressure mounted on the government and the Prime Minister by interest groups, ranging from farmers, small industries and traders, to political parties across the board, surely played a major role in the decision to stay out of the grouping.
- The country had little choice but to exit after its safeguard requests were not conceded. On the one side was the looming figure of China in the group and that country’s desperate need to find newer markets for its products in the backdrop of its trade dispute with the U.S.
- India runs a massive bilateral trade deficit of $53 billion with China and the fact that China has not taken satisfactory efforts to whittle down the deficit certainly were major inputs in India’s decision.
- Second, India’s experience with countries with which it has signed free trade agreements till now is not exactly a happy one. Though trade has increased post-FTA with South Korea, ASEAN and Japan, imports have risen faster than exports from India.
- According to a paper published by NITI Aayog, India has a bilateral trade deficit with most of the member countries of RCEP.
- More importantly, while exports to RCEP countries account for just 15% of India’s total exports, imports from RCEP countries make up 35% of the country’s total imports.
- Given this, it is obvious that in the immediate context the country had more to lose than gain from joining RCEP.
- India’s request for country-specific tariff schedules was rejected early in the negotiations. So was its suggestion of an auto-trigger mechanism to check a sudden surge in imports from particular partner countries.
- India also argued for stricter rules of origin, and rightly so too, but this too failed to pass muster. Movement of professionals was another area that saw an impasse. Given these, there was little chance of the political leadership agreeing to join the bloc.
- Policymakers must have reasoned that India has active FTAs with most members of the RCEP except China, Australia and New Zealand and there will be no economic impact.
- However, the fallout of India’s decision is that it has burnished its image as a protectionist nation with high tariff walls. With a market of 1.3 billion people, there is bound to be more pressure on India to open its gates.
- The smart way to handle this is to initiate reforms on the export front, bring down costs in the economy and, simultaneously, increase efficiencies.
- India cannot miss out on being a part of global supply chains and this can happen only if tariff barriers are reduced. And the best way to balance the effect of rising imports is by promoting exports. Tariff walls cannot be permanent.
2) On NEET crisis: Back to the blackboard
- Acting out of sheer pique cannot be the ideal response to any crisis. Recent data from Tamil Nadu that became available through the Madras High Court showed a clear link between coaching classes and securing a medical seat.
- Some have already given in to the temptation of a knee-jerk response and called for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) to be cancelled, shunning the need for a calibrated response to what is undoubtedly a worrisome situation.
- As per data submitted to the Madras High Court by the government of Tamil Nadu, the bulk of the students who secured MBBS seats in the State in 2019 had taken coaching classes to prepare for the exam.
- Only 1.6 % of all students who joined the government medical colleges had managed to get a seat without undergoing any preparatory coaching Programme.
- Significantly, even in private medical colleges, only a marginally higher percentage (3.2) had got through without coaching classes.
- Data also showed that a significant percentage of students in both government (66.2) and private colleges (64.4) had to take multiple attempts at NEET to score a seat.
- Given that the costs of coaching classes are huge, running into lakhs of rupees, it clearly puts medical education out of the reach of the poorer sections.
- The prohibitive cost factor has been in Tamil Nadu’s list of arguments against NEET right from the beginning of its spirited opposition to the common entrance test.
- That it would keep a segment of students out of the race was the point posited by the State, citing the example set by the IIT-Joint Entrance Examination. The State argued that coaching classes would determine entry to courses, and ergo, put out of the race students who were poor, or hailed from rural areas.
- The question at the root of it all, however, is the quality of education being imparted to students, in urban and rural areas. It is the shortcoming in this sector that makes expensive coaching classes the norm.
- Independent of students’ performance in the medical entrance test, qualitative surveys, including the Annual Status of Education Report, have revealed sad neglect of a key nation-building function - school education.
- Ensuring that quality education is imparted at schools by well-trained teachers would obviate the need for coaching outside of classes.
- NEET, as the equivalent of a quality control test, hopes to choose the best students in a given pool for a career in medicine, remaining value neutral in every other way.
- While ensuring such benefits of NEET continue to accrue, States should put in place a series of steps that would make learning meaningful, and fun for children, and in the interim, provide free NEET coaching classes to help disadvantaged students make that leap.
- Indeed, emptying out dirty bathwater periodically is essential, but to throw the baby out too would be disastrous.