Farmers, people living with HIV and small traders protest against the EU India Free Trade Agreement

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10 Feb, New Delhi: Indian farmers joined people with HIV and small traders to protest against the EU-India Free Trade agreement, which will impact all three sectors by ending livelihoods and cutting access to cheap medicines. EU is calling for a speedy resolution of this agreement, while the Indian government has not undertaken any democratic consultations or impact assessments and the text is still kept secret from the people.

Small and medium farmers are against free trade in agriculture which encourage dumping of cheaply produced food products and put local food producers out of business while cutting the ability of nations to feed themselves by increasing reliance on imports. They instead support food sovereignty which is the ability of nations to feed their people through local production by small farmers, local resources, local agro-ecological methods and traditional knowledge of farmers. They oppose the corporate take over of the food system that cares more about profit than people or nature. This FTA is precisely a corporate take over of the food system, where agribusiness in both EU and India will benefit while pushing small farmers and milk producers out of business in both the regions.

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Below is the letter from the farmers to the Prime Minister:-

Under this trade agreement, EU is demanding that India must reduce import tariff to zero on 92 percent of tariff lines in agricultural and industrial goods. This will have seriously detrimental effect on India’s rural livelihoods, on agricultural production and consequently on our food security. It has been projected that the India-EU BTIA may lead to increased imports of dairy products, coffee, tea, cereals, fruits and vegetable, meat and poultry products and other value-added agriculture products. EU has an unfair export advantage in all of these products. The cheaper imports of dairy products from the EU's heavily subsidised and protected dairy sector could result in a significant dislocation of local producers of milk and dairy products in India and women farmers will be worse affected as dairy employ a large population of women. It will have serious and long-lasting impact as the bulk of our rural population is dependent on them for employment and livelihood. Indian farmers and farming are already under great distress due to the trade liberalization under the WTO regime and since 1995 when India signed WTO, more than 250,000 farmers have been reported to have committed suicides, making this the largest wave of suicides in the world. The drastic reduction of agricultural tariff under BTIA will flood the Indian market with heavily subsidized and ‘surplus’ agricultural produce from 27 European countries and it will lead to another spate of farmers’ suicide in the country.

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Several reports and studies have confirmed that India’s gain in agricultural exports to EU will hardly increase under the BTIA, as compared to EU’s exports which is poised to gain substantially (CEPII-CIREM 2007). Since EU agricultural subsidies are off the trade negotiations under BTIA, they would continue to pose hurdles for Indian agricultural exports to EU. The strict food standards in EU (uneven across 27 EU member countries) pose another great challenge for our exports to EU. That’s why India gains much lower (83 million USD in agro processed food and 33 million USD in primary products) or negligible (USD 7, 2 and 1 million USD respectively in cereals, other crops and products of animal origin) amounts.

We are also quite concerned about the EU demand for TRIPS-plus intellectual property (IP) rights in the form of India’s accession to UPOV 1991 in order to protect the interests of its agribusiness corporations engaged in crop research and development. UPOV-91 upholds rights of plant breeder’s, thus threatens the rights of farmers to use farm saved seed for next year sowing. EU demand for TRIPS plus provision in the form of data exclusivity for agri-chemicals pose a great threat for Indian farmers and it will lead to steep rise in prices of agri-chemicals.

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We are also greatly concerned about EU persistent demand for government procurement, which would greatly threaten food security of millions in India who are dependent on our public distribution system if India opens up procurement for EU companies who may not adhere to the government policy for minimum support price (MSP) to be given to farmers and the procured foodgrains may not land eventually in the FCI godowns.

The UPA government is in the middle of considering a food security bill, but on the other hand, it is willing to trade away our ability to produce food and our self-sufficiency in food production. The government of India cannot ensure that 1.2 billion people will be fed affordably by importing food. Importing food for our food security will be the end of India’s rich agricultural heritage not just because over 65% of the population makes its living through agriculture, but because self-sufficiency in food production is also fundamental to our national security.

We note with great concern that in a democracy like ours no consultations have been carried out on BTIA and all the negotiations were behind closed doors without any parliamentary oversight, while our livelihoods, markets and biodiversity are being traded away. The very question of our livelihoods is under negotiation and yet no effort has been made to consult us. Such lack of transparency is unacceptable to us. We demand that agriculture and agricultural related activities must be kept out of any FTA negotiations India is engaging with. We demand that Quantitative Restrictions and import duties are brought back on all key agricultural commodities. Import duties should be at least 60% on all agricultural products.

The EU India BTIA is going to lead to a loss of agricultural livelihoods- the mainstay of Indian people. It will devastate the future of agriculture as we will lose our ability to diversify, to develop value added products and industries and services related to agriculture as European companies will take over our markets. EUs WTO plus IPR demands will end farmers fundamental rights to save and exchange seeds, and to the loss of farmers plant varieties and valuable traditional agricultural knowledge. India’s precious agro diversity developed over thousands of years is crucial to our food, ecology and existence. More and more MNC control of the food supply chain will affect the health and the food culture of India and consumers will lose choice in access to cheap and healthy food.

Therefore,

  • We appeal to you to withhold your consent and don’t sign the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) with European Union.
  • We also demand an immediate release of the negotiating texts of the proposed BTIA.
  • We want consultations/debates/public meetings with state officials and farmers of each state to discuss the EU India BTIA and other FTAs.
  • Most importantly, the Government of India must put an end to illogical trade liberalization in agriculture (whether through FTAs, WTO or through its own policies) that only serves to weaken our national capacity to ensure the wellbeing of our people and ecology.

 

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