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Fishermen, farmers to protest free-trade agreement

Times of India

Fishermen, farmers to protest free-trade agreement

19 September 2009

TNN/MANGALORE: Many fishermen and farmers’ organizations in Mangalore have taken umbrage at a move by the Union government to sign a free-trade agreement with Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The organizations - Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha (KPRS), National Fish Workers Forum, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha and Karnataka Karavali Sampradayika Nadadoni Meenugarara Okkoota - will register their protest on October 2.

K Yadav Shetty, general secretary, KPRS, said on Saturday that the move by Union minister for commerce Anand Sharma to sign the agreement with ASEAN at Bangkok on August 13 has literally sounded the death knell for farmers and fishermen. "The move to firm up such an agreement had started during the NDA government under Atal Behari Vajpayee and has been realized now," he said.

"Many organizations expressed their concern already about the proposed agreement even when it was at the discussion stage," he said, adding that the Kerala government too had brought pressure on the Union government not to go ahead with this agreement prior to the Bangkok meeting. The agreement will throw open Indian shores to import more than 4,000 commodities including 489 agricultural items.

Explaining the local fallout of the agreement, he said it would have an impact on major commercial crops grown in Dakshina Kannada. "Natural rubber, pepper, areca nut, coconut, cashew, spices and fish products, exempt from import duty will start flooding the local market. Such an eventuality will only worsen the agrarian crisis, not only in DK district, but across the country as well," Yadav warned.

The agreement, he said, could not have come at a worse time, when around 96% of the agriculture carried out across the country had been rendered unviable. A few clauses in the World Trade Organisation agreement that protected the Indian farming community had been dropped in the ASEAN agreement, he said adding, this agreement had to be dropped in toto. "The protest will be held in front of the DC’s office," he added.

Vasudeva Boloor, general secretary, NFF, said the forum had already started its plan of agitation against the then proposed agreement with ASEAN by forwarding a 16-point charter of demands to the Union government last year. "The ASEAN agreement and its fallout will figure prominently in the three-day meeting of NFF to be held in Kolkata from December 6," he said, adding that the agitation would be intensified after that.