Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Japan targets India for increased trade

Japan targets India for increased trade
By Shalini Bhutani

Japan is a user country that needs to access biological resources from others for its bio-trade.

Japan seems to be written all over India’s official calendars. The commerce minister was in Tokyo in early September after agreeing ‘in principle’ to an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Japan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be in Tokyo in October to sign that deal once the Cabinet clears it.

A Ministry of Environment and Forest delegation is also preparing to go to Japan (Nagoya) in October to attend the next big conference of the Convention of Biodiversity (CBD). With the above trips, the bilateral dealings with Japan as well as trade and biodiversity are high on the agenda. Let’s just take a look at Japan’s treatment of both.

Till the late 1990s, Japan’s trade policy was single-mindedly focused on the World Trade Organisation as a means for global trade. There has been a shift in the Japanese government position towards a ‘multi-layered trade’ approach through bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs). Nippon Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organisations) comprising 1,300 companies and 130 industrial sector associations is behind both approaches. Trade and business interests determine the course.

The Japanese government announced a new growth strategy in December 2009, which was approved by its cabinet in June 2010. It expressly states “Achieving growth by pioneering new frontiers,” as one of Japan’s strategic focus areas. This includes increasing trade with other Asian countries, India being just one of them.

Regional integration

The Japan-Singapore FTA (2002) was the first such bilateral for Japan. It has also inked an EPA with the 10-member Asean (2007). Japan is also pushing India and others into a 16-country regional integration initiative of comprehensive economic partnership in East Asia. Its strategy also targets a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific by 2020. The India side seems only to be reacting in response than pro-actively defining its own strategy. And to develop one, Japan’s approach to biological resources has to be located within the context of its aggressive economic strategies.

Japan, hosting the CBD’s tenth conference doesn’t really have a respectable track record on biodiversity conservation. See for instance, its practices of unsustainable whaling and dumping wastes in other countries.

In the 1990s, the Japanese cosmetics MNC Shiseido patented over 10 compounds from Indonesian traditional medical system Jamu. In 2002, CupuaƧu -- an Amazonian fruit, was registered as a trademark in Japan by the Asahi Foods company. It took legal activism from NGOs and campaigns from local people to challenge these at patent offices.

The main agenda of COP 10 is to negotiate an international regime on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS). Over 193 countries have to agree on the draft text on the table, to convince bio-rich countries like India that such cases will not occur in future.

Japan - a leading technology hub, is a user country that needs to access biological resources from others for its bio-trade. So it has a vested interest to show that ABS regimes can work for local communities. That also explains why its nodal agency for ABS to implement CBD objectives, is its ministry economy, trade and industry.

The same portfolio in India is held by the MoEF. In 2005, Japan developed ‘guidelines on access to genetic resources for users in Japan’ as a practical guide for its private sector and research institutes. Japan is heavily investing in the PR to come across as a country that is committed to share the benefits it reaps from others bio-resources.

In real time however, in its FTAs with Malayasia, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, intellectual property rights (IPR) on seeds were on the negotiating table.

Seeking private monopoly rights over biological resources goes against the intention to share benefits.

India too has been the focus of Japanese biodiversity diplomacy. The Japan Bioindustry Association (JBA) has been ‘helping’ the MoEF to develop India’s ABS regime. Japan has a keen interest in agricultural and medical biotechnology, and India’s ministry of commerce has been luring foreign investors highlighting India’s biotech strengths. India’s biological resources are on that menu.

The Indian people don’t even know what has been agreed to under the EPA, as the negotiations and the text remain closed. Meanwhile, an India-Japan global partnership summit is scheduled in mid-December 2010 in Tokyo. Our politicians and Indian businesses may have found Nippon partners. And like delicately cut and beautifully plated sashimi, the Japanese platter might make for them a pretty picture. But if its raw in the inside it is not going to go down well with many an Indian palette. And for those not invited to the party and for that matter otherwise too, nothing smells more than bits of leftover fish!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

India secretly plans to sign India - Japan Economic Partnership Agreement

Beolow is the text of the letter sent by farmers movements to the Indian Prime Minister:-

Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements
La Via Campesina – Globalize Struggle! Globalize Hope!
A-87, Road n.2, Mahipalpur Extension, New Delhi – 37. Ph 9868146405

Manmohan Singh Ji
Honourable Prime Minister of India
Room No. 148-B, South Block
New Delhi – 110 001
Tel: 23012312, Fax: 23016857

Sub: Indian Farmers Oppose the Undemocratic Indo-Japan backdoor EPA

Manmohan Singh ji,

We, the farmers movements of India - the women and men who grow India's food and protect its agricultural biodiversity are writing to you regarding the current back door negotiations of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement or CEPA with Japan. We learn only from press reports that the negotiations are completed and it will  be signed by the Prime Minister next month in Tokyo.

1.There is complete lack of transparency. The Indian Government has not taken any steps to inform us about the several rounds of talks with Japan or the implications of such an economic partnership agreement (EPA). Such EPAs, like other FTAs go beyond what cannot be negotiated under the WTO and we are openly opposed to agriculture in the WTO and in the EPAs or FTAs. In the absence of any official disclosure, the only limited information on this has been from leaked drafts, or through NGOs and ironically from the Japanese government web sites.

Agriculture is a state subject in federal India, however our state governments have not even been  informed or consulted about proceedings of this EPA and its impact on state agriculture. Such a centralizing trend to fast track decision making on controversial issues like free trade, GMOs and agriculture research, issues that pertain to state governments is a disturbing trend.

It is thus unacceptable to us that the Government of India  "agree in principle" and conclude this EPA  without any transperancy and we reject  this EPA as an undemocratic underhand deal.
2.Farmers freedoms are  at stake. We demand to know what agriculture-related and IPR provisions are being negotiated in this Indo-Japan CEPA. From the 'leaked' drafts it is understood that both sides are expected to comply "in a manner based on international standards” on new plant varieties. We understand that in general international standards refer to UPOV standards. UPOV provides more protection to industrialised nation seed corporations as opposed to developing country farmers. India has already taken a relatively progressive step with its own Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act of 2001 and no new trade agreements should impinge on the rights of its farmers as plant breeders and seed consumers as ennumerated in this act.

3.Our farming needs our own seeds. Already Japanese companies like Sakata, Taikii and Tokita Seeds operate in India and Japan's obvious interests will be to protect its corporations profits. Various other agriculture related Japanese companies are eyeing our agriculture market.  We therefore demand that not only farmers traditional rights to save, resow and exchange seeds are not compromised under any circumstances, but that our own seeds be given the space and priority they warrant. India’s public agriculture universities should focus on enhancing farmers seed varieties and farming technologies with their participation. We strongly object against corporations being given an entry pass, be it through IPR or any investment concessions. India's seeds are our people’s patrimony, not for a foreign corporation to exploit and  profit from. 

We do not need to remind you that India is suffering from an agrarian crises. There is a corporate assault on our lands, seeds, water and local markets. Farmers are committing suicides everyday – already more than 200,000 farmers have committed suicide and this is only a very modest number as actual numbers are much higher. There is a wave of migrations of male farmers to exploding cities for underpaying, undignified jobs in the informal sector with no social security. Farmer women are bearing greater burdens to make ends meet and take care of their families in  times of rising food prices and low incomes. Worse still they are being pushed into unsafe professions. It is the Government's duty  to protect and revive our rural economies so that we may live with dignity and put an end to hunger by strengthening our freedoms and rights as farmers to grow India's food. India should not compromise its food soverignty – its ability to feed its own people by its own means. With such a vision for our food and farmers there is no room negotiating away the agriculture sector through such EPAs, the WTO and FTAs.

We demand:
·       The full text of the agreement is made public;
·       A study of the impacts on the key constituents is carried out
·       State government are consulted and a consensus is reached;
·       Consultations are conducted with key constituents such as farmers,  fishworkers, trade unions and other peoples organizations
·       The text is debated and discussed in parliament;

Signed by:
Ch Mahinder Singh Tikait, Bhartiya Kisan Union
Yudhvir Singh, Bhartiya Kisan Union, Delhi
Rakesh Tikait, Bhartiya Kisan Union, UP
Gurnam Singh, Bhartiya Kisan Union, Haryana
Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, Bhartiya Kisan Union, Punjab
Jagdish Singh, Bhartiya Kisan Union, M.P.
Sukhdev Singh Gill, Bhartiya Kisan Union, Himachal Pradesh
Vijay Jawandhia, Maharashtra
Kodiahalli Chandra Sekher , Karnataka Rajya Ryotha Sanga (KRRS) , Karnataka
P.Raveendranath,Kerala Coconut Farmers Association( KCFA), Kerela
Nallagounder, Uzhavar Ulaippalar Katchi, Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, Tamil Nadu
S.Kannaiyan, Thamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam, Tamil Nadu

Friday, September 10, 2010

Karnataka Farmers for stronger vigilance on land acquisitions - demand land audit department

Here is an article that appeared in the Hindu:-

Create land audit department, demands Raitha Sangha Special Correspondent
‘75 p.c. of land acquired in the State has been diverted to real estate business'

Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board accused of supporting land mafia
Government accused of being anti-rural and

Bangalore: Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha-Hasiru Sene president Kodihalli Chandrashekar has urged the State Government to create a department of land audit to oversee the use of land acquired for various purposes.
Speaking to presspersons here on Monday, he alleged that 75 per cent of the land acquired in the State had been diverted to real estate business, helping a few individuals amass wealth.
Information sought
He sought release of information periodically about the land available with the government, industry, various organisations, and agricultural land at village, taluk and district levels.
Mr. Chandrashekar wanted information on the extent of land given to companies and organisations and how much of it had been utilised for the purpose for which it was allotted and how much surplus land was left with the companies.
He demanded that no government land be given for forming layouts and criticised the move to acquire 2 lakh acres of land for creating a land bank for industries. It was also not correct to allot 1,000 acres for an industry, whose requirement was not even 100 acres, he said.
Accusing the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board of supporting the land mafia, he demanded that it be wound up.
All transactions involving land acquisition and allotment should be entrusted to the land audit department proposed by the sangha. A chapter on land and agriculture should be included in the school curriculum.
Criticising the samaveshas, especially the ones organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr. Chandrashekar said the Government should concentrate on solving problems such as power shortage. He called upon the farmers to protest such unproductive programmes at taluk and district headquarters. Foodgrains production had been hit hard and prices of vegetables and fruits had gone up owing to load-shedding, he said.
Alleging that no irrigation pumpset was working across the State, Mr. Chandrashekar accused the Government of being anti-rural and anti-farmer.
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Monday, September 6, 2010

Bangladesh Peasants discuss fundamentalism during Ramadan

On 3 September 2010, Bangladesh Krishok Federation (BKF) organized a meeting in their Dhaka office. This is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and so they also discussed various religious issues and their position on fundamentalism.