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Straight talk across Palk Strait — “No FTAs”!

MONLAR | Tuesday, June 15, 2010


A Joint India-Lanka People’s Statement for Cultivating Peace and not Free Trade Agreements

Talks towards a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) are to be intensified by the governments of India and Sri Lanka. This is one of the main messages from yesterday’s joint declaration in Delhi, India between the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the visiting Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse. A joint commission has been revived for the purpose to deepen economic and agricultural ties. The CEPA is likely to be made final and signed by the end of this year.

This CEPA has no social backing and has been met with people’s protests on both sides. In the past the two countries have signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that came into effect in 2000 and reportedly, the next level of trade relations through a CEPA are to “build on the gains” of the earlier FTA. However, a decade later there are neither official impact studies on either side nor real life evidence to show that trade between the two countries has gainfully bettered people’s lives. The FTA was only about trade in goods, but the CEPA will broaden out to cover much more, including services and investment.

Despite PM Singh’s call for “inclusive growth” and the President Rajapaksa’s Election Manifesto Mahinda Chinthanaya motto that Lankans will produce locally, everything they need; our governments are negotiating several bilateral trade and investment agreements amongst themselves and other countries. In these negotiations, as in Lanka, “the government (is) determined to give an opportunity to the business community, industrialists, investors, importers and air their views on the CEPA and many other agreements which are scheduled to be signed.” Likewise, in India it is the industry bodies and business associations, such as FICCI and CII, that are consulted. The talks are not made transparent to ordinary people’s whose lives and livelihoods are most affected by such bilateral trade and investment agreements. The two sides have now agreed to launch a CEOs Forum, so that business communities can interact. It is the economic and political elites that are able to bargain win-win deals for themselves.

South-South FTAs too must be seen as a continuation of relationships of dominance by powerful players and private corporations. The Indian peoples’ experience with the Sri Lankan FTA shows that it has had a devastating impact on agricultural livelihoods in states such as Kerala. The same FTA has also had negative impacts on the Sri Lankan side, which explains the anti-India sentiment even with the proposed CEPA. Trade is thus turning our peoples against each other. Therefore, the urgent need for a new basis for fostering relationships amongst the countries in South Asia. Trade can not be a basis for lasting peace in the sub-region.

We, ordinary peoples, farmers’ groups, worker unions, trade activists, non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations, representing both India and Sri Lanka, express solidarity with the movements on both sides of Palk Strait that work for genuine friendship across the Palk Strait. Till small farmers, fisher folk and local communities from both sides progress, there can be no real peace. In securing that peace, we do not need terms of trade — tariff quotas, import duties, CEPAs, etc. — but an agreement to first make peace with the natural resources that support lives, cultures and livelihoods. Trade rules compel us to compete rather than collaborate. Moreover, more trading means more impacts on the planet and our peoples. It is our firm belief that resettlement after the many crises — ethnic, economic and ecological, requires rebuilding local economies that are socially just and ecologically appropriate. Therefore, we do not support any of the trade agreements between the two governments. We however endorse the many “alternatives” that people’s themselves are building in partnership, such as on seed, food and farm practices. On our part we commit to work on a people-to-people level to sow peace.

Forum Against FTAs, India | MONLAR, Sri Lanka | GRAIN (International) | La Via Campesina, South Asia

 source: MONLAR