New Delhi, Nov.26 : Indian organizations representing NGOs, farmers groups, trade unions, health groups and peoples' movements today called for an immediate halt to negotiations between India and the European Union on a far reaching Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that will have an adverse impact on livelihoods, food security and access to healthcare.
According to a press release issued by the Centre for Education and Communication, the groups met with Members of the European Parliament in Delhi to place on record their grave concerns over the overarching scope of the FTA negotiations and the extreme and unwarranted secrecy surrounding them.
Earlier on 21 September 2008, 75 organisations released a statement questioning the secrecy of the negotiations and highlighting concerns about the impact of the EU-India FTA on nearly every sector of the Indian economy.
The Speakers in a press conference stressed that there has been no transparency or accountability from either the Indian government or the European Union in these negotiations. "The text of the negotiations has not been released. There has been no public discussion," noted Smitu Kothari, Intercultural Resources.
There is great concern around the impact of the EU-India FTA on livelihood. The negotiations are likely to lead to severe cuts in tariffs and see a flood of imports from the EU into India. Indeed, studies estimate that while imports from India to the EU may increase by USD 5 billion, that from the EU to India will increase by USD 17 billion.
"Even if we look at the labour intensive sectors, India does not stand to gain. We will only become subcontractors in the global production chains this process will be intensified by the FTA. noted Ashim Roy, New Trade union Initiative.
Such a surge in imports will have a devastating effect on the small and medium sector. This will particularly impact adversely on over 90% of Indians work in the informal sector with no job security and little income. "Indian fish exports will face non tariff barriers and our markets will be affected. The agreement will hurt those who are earning a daily living," noted Harekrishna Debnath, National Fishworkers Forum
"FTA is just another form of WTO. The agreement will harm the agricultural sector. It will only benefit monopolies in trade," noted Yudhvir Singh, Prseident, Bhartiya Kisan Union. "On agriculture all FTAs have impacted negatively. This is a damaging proposition. The question of subsidy is not being discussed," added Devinder Sharma, Forum for Biotechnology and Food Sovereignty.
"The European Union is pressing India for increased intellectual property protection - much beyond what India has agreed to under the World Trade Organisation's TRIPS Agreement," said B.K Keayla of the National Working Group on Patent Laws. "The Indian Parliament has already made it clear that access to affordable generics must continue as a lifeline for millions not just in India but around the world. We are extremely concerned that the Indian government is negotiating these issues with the EU." he said.
The groups are also questioning why the Indian government is engaging in such wide ranging negotiations given the current economic crisis and the need for careful law and policy making in such an atmosphere. The current crisis has shown that there needs to be greater democratisation of international trade processes. Expansive liberalisation of banking services has led to consolidation, lack of transparency and extremely risky behaviour of firms as is borne out by the current global crisis. The EU-India FTA proposes to completely open up the banking sector which would further exacerbate financial exclusion of the poor from institutionalized credit and banking and significantly increase India's vulnerability to global financial crises.