Deccan Herald | 25 June 2022
’Mad rush to sign FTAs not in interests of farmers’
by Shemin Joy
India is inking a series of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) but there is criticism from various quarters about it. All India Kisan Sabha Joint Secretary Vijoo Krishnan spoke to DH’s Shemin Joy about what is wrong with FTAs and where the government is erring. Here are excerpts:
Q. How do you view India’s recent move to ink a series of FTA with UAE, the United Kingdom, European Union, Australia, GCC and Israel?
Vijoo Krishnan: Most FTAs want duty free access to Indian markets. India’s FTAs with Sri Lanka and the ASEAN led to dumping of cheap agricultural produce from these countries in our country and caused a price crash, hurting the interests of our farmers producing tea, coffee, spices and rubber. Many farmers were pushed into debt traps. Many committed suicide. Farmers were pushed into debt trap and many were forced to commit suicide.
India has in the past opted out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership talks. But it is now going ahead with negotiations to ink bilateral trade deals. What do you think prompted the government to change its approach? Do you think that this course correction is good for the economic interests of the people?
After going to Thailand to ink the RCEP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the last minute refrained from it due to protests by farmers and also losses suffered in the elections. He also had then stated that even the FTA with ASEAN would be reviewed. However, now there is a mad rush to enter into FTAs. There is no talk of any review. Essentially the BJP and ruling classes are sold to the idea of neo-liberal economic policies that they are pursuing at the behest of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the World Trade Organization.
How could the FTAs affect the farmers, workers, small traders and others?
This move in favour of the unequal FTAs is not a course correction in the interest of Indian people, especially the farmers and the small enterprises. The sovereign right to have in place import duties, tariffs and quantitative restrictions must not be compromised. For a course correction, the Indian Government should review the unequal FTAs. That political will is lacking in the BJP as they represent the interest of the ruling classes rather than the masses.
What should the government do to protect the interests of the farmers, small traders and others while negotiating the trade deals?
The government should ensure that Indian farmers are protected from cheap imports, monopoly in the name of intellectual property rights must be curbed and no compromise on agricultural subsidy, food security as well as public stock-holding programmes. Any let up in these will sound the death knell for Indian farmers.