Agri Business

Farmers plan nationwide protest against RCEP on November 4

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on October 31, 2019

All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a coalition of over 250 farmer organisations in the country, said tens of lakhs of farmers across the country would participate in a nationwide protest on November 4 to warn the government against going ahead with inclusion of agriculture in the RCEP free trade agreement, farmer leaders said here on Thursday.

The farmers would hold demonstrations and burn the effigy of "the RCEP document" at district, and lower administrative offices across the country asking the Narendra Modi led NDA government to desist from going ahead with signing of the RCEP multilateral trade agreement involving 16 countries, AIKSCC convenor V M Singh and other working committee members told reporters. The Prime Minister is expected to participate in RCEP Leaders Summit in Bangkok on November 4.

Indian farmers ill-prepared

The leader said that due to anti-farmer, pro-corporate policies of the government, Indian farmers are ill-prepared to compete in world markets, unlike in most other countries where governments have been heavily subsidising crop inputs and providing quality infrastructure to their farmers to maintain competitive prices of their produce. In India, input prices are heavily taxed, and farmers are not given profitable prices, resulting in substantial losses and farmer debts, they said adding that RCEP will aggravate this crisis immensely.

"It is a mockery of democracy that a far-reaching trade agreement affecting the livelihood of crores of Indian farmers is being concluded in complete secrecy, that no draft of the negotiation text has been made public, that the state governments have not been consulted and that there has been no discussion in the Parliament on this issue so far," AIKSCC said in a statement.

The leaders also took exception to the statement of Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal about keeping quiet until the framework was out and asked why the Government wanted to shut all the voices of dissent till the agreement. "If we could wait for 17 years, why can't we wait for some more time and make the provisional text of the agreement public and hold consultations with farmers, farm organisations, state governments and other stakeholders before taking a final decision," asked Singh.

"The Prime Minister should ask chief ministers belonging to his own party (the BJP) and see how many of them willing to back the deal, Singh told BusinessLine.

Farmers apprehension

Elaborating the apprehensions of the farmers, the AIKSCC leaders said that RCEP is likely to hurt Indian agriculture and dairy sector in a way no other trade agreement has so far. Till now, the general norm has been to keep agriculture out of Free Trade Agreements, a convention followed even in the ongoing EU-US free trade negotiations.

Forced reduction in tariffs to zero or near-zero would cripple the Indian dairy sector, thus affecting the livelihood of nearly 10 crore families. Similarly, threats are awaiting farmers who cultivate wheat and cotton (the challenge from Australia and China), oilseeds (challenge of palm oil import) and plantation crops (pepper, coconut, arecanut, cardamom, rubber etc).

The umbrella body of the farmer organisations also plans to hold a two-day national convention on November 29-30 to discuss, deliberate and decide on action plans to realise the long pending demands of farmers and resist the current onslaught against farmers and food security through dubious free trade agreements like RCEP.

Issues of apple farmers

The AIKSCC also took up the issue of apple farmers in Jammu and Kashmir State, who despite having a bumper production this year, are facing a bleak future. The promise of procurement of apple by the State-owned agency Nafed has fallen flat; they said demanding that the government should buy apply at farm gate and making full payment of crop value to the apple farmers.

"The apple production in the State this year is expected to be more than 1.8 million tonnes and nearly 50 per cent of the crop is at risk because of attacks on orchard labourers and truck drivers ferrying apple from Kashmir," said Mujeeb-ul Shafie, an activist of Jai Kisan Andolan.

Shafie, who hails from a Kashmiri family that trades in apples, said because of the attacks on trucks freight charges have gone up substantially from Rs 80-90 per box of 15-16 kg apples) to Rs 140-160 per box, adding that the Nafed procurement was very ineffective so far.

Published on October 31, 2019

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