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Free trade pact not to hurt farmers

The Telegraph, Calcutta

Free trade pact not to hurt farmers

Our Special Correspondent

Singh & Sonia: No need to worry

9 May 2006

New Delhi, May 8: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has assured Congress president Sonia Gandhi that the proposed Indo-Asean free trade agreement (FTA) would not affect Indian farmers.

The Prime Minister has, in a letter dated April 20, allayed the fears of the Congress president over any negative fallout of the proposed free trade agreement on the farm sector.

Earlier, through a letter to Singh, dated April 12, Sonia had advised the government to “very carefully scrutinise” the FTA to protect farmers.

Referring to Sonia’s letter, a section of the media had tried to create an impression of a rift on the issue between the Prime Minister and the Congress president.

PMO and commerce ministry officials clarified that the letter had been written earlier and the Prime Minister had already replied to it.

In the reply, the Prime Minister said the government enters into bilateral and regional economic negotiations only after a thorough study of the issues concerned to safeguard the livelihood of farmers.

Singh also said the government was very cautious while negotiating market access in agriculture, often imposing quantitative restrictions after consultations with the farm lobby.

PMO sources said after the letter to Sonia, the Prime Minister’s Trade and Economic Relations Committee (Terc) on May 3 reviewed the ongoing negotiations relating to the FTA with Asean.

The discussions were still on and no final decision has been taken on these issues, the sources said.

In the meantime, the commerce ministry has sent to the Terc its recommendations on the FTA. The recommendations relate to tariff on various products and the sensitive negative lists.

In his letter to Sonia, Singh said he is one with the Congress president on the impact the FTAs will have on the economy. He said the negotiations were done with utmost care, keeping in mind the interests of those who might be adversely affected in the short run.

Singh said he agrees with Sonia on the need to protect and strengthen the agricultural sector.

The letter said the government has accepted the Swaminathan committee’s report and would implement the recommendations within a specific time.

The government’s approach to regional trading agreements and FTAs has evolved after a careful consideration of India’s geo-political and economic interests, the letter said.

The Prime Minister said though India has a large domestic market, its experience with insular policies - before economic reforms were introduced in 1991 - as also the global experiences bring out the potential of trade and economic cooperation.