TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar09/07)
26  March 2009
Third World Network

NGOs protest against EU-India FTA talks
Published in SUNS #6663 dated 19 March 2009

Geneva, 18 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- A group of Indian trade unions, peoples' movements, civil society organizations and academicians are protesting against the ongoing negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) between the 27-member European Union and India.

The public interest groups, under the platform of the "Forum on FTAs", complained that the negotiating agenda of the free trade agreement would undermine India's policy space as well as adversely affect the livelihood of millions.

It will also necessitate regressive amendments of laws and policies that protect the rights of farmers, workers and small and medium enterprises, among others, and also undermine the country's environmental security.

The groups also demonstrated against what they viewed as the secretive nature of the negotiations on the FTA, which includes contentious issues such as agriculture, investment, fisheries, intellectual property and government procurement.

Since the trade talks between the European Union and India were launched in Brussels in 2007, "there has been no access to negotiating texts," they said.

The public interest groups called for the EU-India FTA talks to be put off.

The protests came just as the sixth round of negotiations between the EU and India got underway from 17-19 March in New Delhi.

A media release on 17 March cited Pradip Dutta of the Delhi Network of [HIV] Positive People as saying: "This FTA has provisions that will undermine access to treatment, not just in India but across the developing world".

The groups said that Dutta's concerns are not unfounded. India is well recognised as the leading supplier of generic medicines across the developing world. Recent seizures at EU ports of such generic drug consignments are ample evidence of the adverse impacts of stringent provisions on intellectual property rights that are also likely to feature in the EU-India FTA.

Several other colleagues living with HIV joined Dutta at the protest. Those participating in the protest included representatives from hawkers' associations, networks of HIV positive people, and health, agriculture and labour groups.

According to the public interest groups, in response to the protest organized by the Forum on FTAs, EU Ambassador Daniele Smadja met with three representatives from the Forum.

Dharmendra Kumar of India FDI Watch, who met with the Ambassador, said, "We were disappointed but not surprised by the Ambassador's statement that all negotiating texts are secret and will not be made available even to EU Parliamentarians".

According to the Forum on FTAs, with a minimum of 90% tariff coverage, there will be little leeway for the Indian government to protect Indian agriculture.

Speaking to the Indian press, Yudhvir Singh from the Bharatiya Kisan Union, stated, "It is shocking that EU subsidies are kept out of the negotiations and this will allow agribusiness in EU to dump subsidized products such as dairy into the country".

The Forum has submitted a memorandum to Commerce Minister Mr Kamal Nath calling for a halt to the EU-India FTA talks and has asked for a meeting with the Indian delegation.

In its letter to Minister Nath, the Forum on FTAs expressed its "opposition to the lack of transparency, public debate and democratic process surrounding the ongoing EU-India FTA negotiations."

The letter said that despite five rounds of the negotiations and repeated requests for public access to the Indian government position, commissioned studies and negotiating texts, the details of the issues discussed are kept secret, not only to the public, but also to the Indian Parliament, state governments and legislatures.

This new-generation FTA covers many areas other than trade in goods viz. trade in services, investment, intellectual property rights, competition policy, and government procurement.

"We are deeply concerned that an FTA with [the] EU in the backdrop of its corporate-driven Global Europe strategy will have adverse socioeconomic and environmental impacts," the groups told Nath.

The current global financial crisis signals a critical need to democratize trade policy processes. The current FTA with the EU in its present form severely constrains India's policy space that favours just, equitable and environmentally sustainable development.

The groups stressed that there is an urgent need to put off the EU-India FTA negotiations and call for an informed public debate on the feasibility and efficacy of the FTA with the EU.

In its letter to Minister Nath, the Forum on FTAs called on the Indian government to put off the EU-India FTA talks until:

-- All existing negotiating positions, draft proposals and government commissioned studies are made public;

-- All current proposals are debated and discussed in parliament and public fora;

-- The federal process of consultation with the state governments is completed and a consensus is reached;

-- Consultations are conducted with key constituents such as trade unions, farmers, women, Dalit, Adivasi and other peoples' organizations, small and medium enterprises, cooperatives and hawkers; and

-- A white paper is released and discussed in parliament on the socioeconomic and ecological impacts of all aspects of the EU-India FTA, especially addressing social inequality and discrimination.

The Forum on FTAs said that it has also written to political parties across the spectrum to address this issue in their manifestos. According to the groups, this demand has been met positively, showing growing skepticism with the FTA agenda. +