The widespread protests by hundreds of farmers across the country against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) went unnoticed by and large.
All the key agricultural States such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Haryana witnessed protests by farmers, who demanded India’s exit from the economic pact.
As the negotiations enter the crucial, concluding phase next week, the farmers demand the Union Government not to sign the RCEP agreement. In case they go ahead, the Government should keep agriculture out of the RCEP purview.
Farmers’ unions, intellectuals, and non-governmental organisations working in the agricultural and allied fields have formed Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers' Movements (ICCFM) to organise and coordinate the protests.
Holding placards and raising slogans, a number of farmers held protests even in remote areas such as Mandya, Shimoga, Hassan, Kolar, Chikkaballapura and Bellary (Karnataka); Coimbatore, Nagapattinam and Madurai (Tamil Nadu); Rampur, Amroha, Muzzafarnagar, Shamli, Kanauj, Fatehpur and (UP); Narayanpet, Wanaparthy, Ongole and Mulugu in Telugu States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
In a common memorandum to Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, with copies marked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the farmers related the implications of India go ahead with the RCEP negotiations.
“There are no benefits apparent at all for Indian farmers while on the other hand, they will be severely affected by dumping of heavily subsidised products, with nearly no tariff barriers possible and no other protection mechanisms either,” the memorandum said.
“The IPR clauses are likely to seriously impinge on farmers’ seed freedoms. We are particularly concerned about the dairy sector and plantations sector, which are going to be hit very hard,” Kavita Kuruganti, farm activist.
“There has been no rigorous and widespread evaluation of past experience in such trade deals and it makes no sense for India to walk into binding agreements without a proper review to begin with,” she said.
With RCEP entering a crucial phase of negotiations next week, the ICCFM wants the government to make the details of negotiations public. “The actual details of the deal being negotiated by Government of India is not in the public domain and there have been no consultations with state governments and farmers’ movements so far,” she said.
The RCEP will permanently bring down import duties on most agricultural commodities to zero. Many countries are looking to dump their agricultural produce in India.
Seed companies will get more powers to protect their Intellectual Property Rights, and farmers would be criminalised when they save and exchange seeds.
Foreign corporations could bypass national courts and sue our governments for favouring our farmers and workers at private arbitration tribunals.