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Centre should clear apprehensions over RCEP

Centre should clear apprehensions over RCEP
Highlights

AIKSCC (All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee), the largest platform of over 250 farmers’ organisations, has asked the Modi government to desist from going ahead with signing of multilateral free trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) involving 16 countries.

AIKSCC (All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee), the largest platform of over 250 farmers' organisations, has asked the Modi government to desist from going ahead with signing of multilateral free trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) involving 16 countries.

The Centre may not even take note of the protest, but it should not forget that the farmers of this country could ill afford to be part of RCEP.

As AIKSCC reiterates, due to anti-farmer, pro-corporate policies of the government, Indian farmers are ill prepared to compete in world markets.

World over, governments have been heavily subsidising crop inputs and providing quality infrastructure to their farmers in order to maintain competitive prices of their produce. The Indian government has not done that.

In India, input prices are heavily taxed, and farmers are not given profitable prices, resulting in heavy losses and farmer debts. The RCEP will only 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 and no draft of the negotiation text has been made public.

In addition, there is a charge that the State governments have not been consulted and that there has been no discussion in Parliament on this issue so far. It is bewildering that the leaders of farmers have been asked to keep quiet and not make an issue out of this till the RCEP agreement is complete.

Why should not one take exception to the statement of the Commerce Minister about keeping quiet till the framework is done? Not just a farmer, but everyone in this country should ask why the government wanted to shut all the voices of dissent till the agreement is a fait accompli.

The AIKSCC has rightly elaborated the apprehensions of the farmers, when it 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.

A similar threat to Indian farmers being priced-out looms large for farmers who cultivate wheat and cotton (challenge from Australia and China), oilseed producers (challenge of palm oil import) and plantation producers (pepper, coconut, areca nut, cardamom, rubber etc).

The impact of RCEP on Indian farmers is not limited to tariff alone. The discussion about TRIPS-Plus obligations on Intellectual Property Rights poses a special danger on seed patents and breeding of animals.

Also, plans may be afoot to give MNCs easier access to acquire agricultural land, bidding for government procurement of food-grains, investments in food processing and monopolising e-retail, which will further increase dependence of farmers on corporates who will reap huge profits at the cost of Indian peasants. The government must come clean on these apprehensions.

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