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Farmers join hands with NGOs to oppose talks on regional economic pacts

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on December 02, 2014 Published on December 02, 2014

Business-persons too have admitted they are petrified at the thought ofincreased competition from China once the agreement is implemented

Non-transparent process could hit livelihood of farmers and small businesses, they say



Farmer groups, think-tanks and non-government organisations have come together to protest against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement currently being negotiated in New Delhi. They say the pact would deal a severe blow to the livelihood of peasants and small businesses in India.

The RCEP — being negotiated between India, the ten-member Asean, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia — could bring down tariffs sharply on several manufacturing and agricultural goods and liberalise flow of investments and services.

“Economic cooperation with a region does not mean that you bring down tariffs on sensitive dairy products that could hit as many as 90 million small farmers or make small farmers of spices, rubber and coconut even more vulnerable,” Vijoo Krishnan from All India Kisan Sabha told BusinessLine.

Increasing nervousness

Krishnan said Indian farmers were as apprehensive of dairy products flowing in from New Zealand and Australia as they were of an increase in imports of agricultural produce from the Asean.

Although Indian industry has not come out openly against the RCEP, many business-persons have admitted they are petrified at the thought of increased competition from Chinese companies once the agreement is implemented; this is based on the limited consultations they have had with the Government on the issue. “The RCEP negotiations are completely non-transparent. It is even worse than the secrecy involved in the India-EU FTA negotiations. Nobody has any clue what India plans to offer the other RCEP partners and, therefore, there is a lot of uneasiness among both industrialists and farmers,” a trade analyst from a Delhi-based think-tank said.

‘Complicated’

Since India has no existing FTAs with China, New Zealand and Australia, farmers and industry are very apprehensive about what will be on offer to these three countries.

Commerce Ministry officials, in their defence, say the negotiations are complicated as 16 countries are involved and China already has an FTA with the Asean bloc. “Asean is ready to give much more liberal offers to China in terms of tariff cuts than we are. We know that our industry and farmers need protection and are willing to provide it. But we are indeed facing a difficult situation,” an official said.

Protestors, including representatives from Bhartiya Kisan Union and NGOs such as Third World Network, India FDI Watch, Forum Against FTAs and Focus on the Global South, demanded that the Government should make pubic all RCEP documents and negotiating texts.

The RCEP countries, which account for 45 per cent of the world population with a combined gross domestic product of $21.4 trillion, hope to finalise the pact by the end of next year.

Published on December 02, 2014
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