Dairy major Amul welcomed the Centre's decision to refrain from signing up for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), stating that it was a step in the direction towards achieving doubling of farmers income, and protecting interests of the 10 crore dairy farmers in the nation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi declined joining the RCEP as India's concerns about its own small and medium businessmen and farmers remained unanswered.
"It is a welcome decision and has given confidence to 10 crore dairy farmers. The government has done what they had promised. In spite of the pressure from other 15 partner countries, the government decided to safeguard the interests of India's small and marginal dairy farmers. This will encourage farmers to continue investing in dairy farming," RS Sodhi, Managing Director, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), said. GCMMF is the marketer of Amul brand of dairy products.
Dairy farmers feared that dairy products could be dumped from milk-surplus countries such as New Zealand and Australia, if India joined the deal.
"Ever since the discussion on RCEP had initiated, there were uncertainty on the future of the dairy sector. We had observed that the investments by dairy farmers was reducing. But the latest decision clears the air about the uncertainties, and gives further confidence to small farmers to stay invested in dairying," Sodhi told BusinessLine .
Amul and various other dairy and farmers' bodies, including the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), had raised their objections to making dairy part of the RCEP negotiations.
As projected by the NITI Aayog, India's milk production is likely to touch 330 million tonnes (MT) by 2033, from the current about 180 MT. But the projected demand is likely to be about 292 MT. This shows that India would continue to have sufficient surplus to meet its own requirement, hence there was no case for allowing import of milk products even after a decade.
"On behalf of 36 lac milk producers of Gujarat, Amul has thanked Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his exemplary leadership in protecting the 10 crore milk producer families of India. It has appreciated the vision and resolve of the Prime Minister for supporting the domestic milk producers against the flood of imports of dairy products from New Zealand and Australia under the proposed RCEP," Sodhi stated in a statement late on Monday night.
Multiple stakeholders consultations took place before arriving at the decision.
The dangers of RCEP
Over the past few months, as the discussions moved towards finalisation stage, Amul along with other private and cooperative dairy federations, National Cooperative Dairy Federation of India, held several meetings with the officials of the Ministry of Commerce including with the Union Minister for Commerce Piyush Goyal to sensitize the Government on the likely impact of offering zero-duty imports of cheaper dairy commodities from Australia and New Zealand.
The dairy players also received support from the Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries and the Ministry of Agriculture to build a case in their favour.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had also voiced the farmers' concerns before the Centre.
More than a million women milk producer members of Gujarat and other states of India had also shared their concerns directly with PM Modi asking him to reconsider India's entry strategy in RCEP at the terms proposed by the other countries. They wrote hundreds of post cards to Modi, asking him to reject the dairy proposal of RCEP.
The Swadeshi Jagran Manch and leading farmer organisations too played their role in highlighting the concerns of milk producers.
"The trade bodies viz CII, FICCI etc. also provided a forum for discussion on the dangers of RCEP for dairy as well as other sectors. All sections of media also debated the demerits of RCEP, and its likely impact on milk producers and the farm sector. Based on the above, Honourable Minister of Commerce Shri Piyush Goyal had personally assured that the Government will not take any decision against the interest of the milk producers," Sodhi said acknowledging the support from across the spectrum of society.
He also stated that India is the largest milk producing country in the world, with 20 per cent of world milk production.
"At the current rate of growth, it is likely to produce 31 per cent of the world's milk by 2033, and certainly emerge as a dairy to the world. At current prices, our dairy industry is worth US$ 100 billion with value of output more than the value of wheat and paddy produced in the country," he added.