Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Keep agriculture and dairy out of RCEP negotiations, major farmers union tells government


PRESS RELEASE
INDIAN COORDINATION COMMITTEE OF FARMERS’ MOVEMENTS

Keep agriculture and dairy out of RCEP negotiations, farmers’ body tells government 



The RCEP will destroy farm livelihoods, especially in the domestic dairy sector. 


31 July, New Delhi: Representatives of all prominent farmers’ unions in India have unanimously rejected the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), warning that the mega-trade agreement threatens farm livelihoods, autonomy over seeds and also endangering the country’s self-sufficient dairy sector.
At a press conference in Delhi today, farmers’ leaders warned the government not to bow down to pressure from the 16 other negotiating countries like China, New Zealand, Australia and ASEAN who are eager to close the deal, that only stands to benefit large agribusinesses in these countries.
RCEP will increase the benefits of trading partners because of India’s massive market, while India will lose revenues of up to 60,000 crores if the deal is fully implemented”, said Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union.

RCEP would force India to remove tariffs on 92% of traded commodities. India has already lost 26,000 crores of revenue in 2018-2019 by allowing cheap imports from the ASEAN bloc with which India has an existing free trade deal.

Dairy brings daily cash to our marginal and small farmers, a large majority of them women. India is already self-sufficient in dairy. But through RCEP, foreign players like Fonterra, Danone, want to dump their surplus into our country. Why should we import what we don’t need? What about our poor farmers' livelihoods?” asked Rakesh Tikait, from Bharatiya Kisan Union.
India’s mostly unorganized dairy sector currently provides livelihoods to over 150 million people. Projections by Niti Ayog upto 2033 show that India’s national dairy supply will reach 330 mt, beating the national demand of 292 mt, thus negating any needs for additional imports.[2]
New Zealand is spreading half-truth when they claim that only an insignificant 5% of its dairy exports are destined for India. But this 5% still amounts to a large loss for our domestic producers! We will lose that much to one country alone, and imagine the danger if we add up others” said Sellamuttu of Tamila Vyavasaigal Sangam of Tamil Nadu.
RCEP is more threatening than other trade regimes like the World Trade Organization. While India has been resisting tariff cuts to only 80% of traded goods as compared to 92 % demanded in RCEP, India will not be able to raise duties at a later date – a provision that even the WTO did not impose, putting serious restrictions on India’s ability to protect its farmers and workers' livelihoods.
Aside from dairy, RCEP will also give more concessions to foreign players in critical areas like seeds and patents. An important concern about RCEP is the demand from member countries, especially Japan and South Korea, for ‘TRIPS-plus’ intellectual property (IP) protection for seeds, medicines, and agrochemicals. This will be disastrous for Indian farmers because the country is under pressure to accede to the 1991 International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties Convention (UPOV) and comply with its standards. UPOV is a system of seed patenting that undermines farmers’ rights, gives primacy to corporate plant breeders and restricts freedom of researchers and breeders to access protected plant varieties for further research and development.
The manufacturing sector is also under serious threat. Farmers warned of national protests if agriculture was not taken out of RCEP.
The RCEP would be the largest FTA in terms of population, it would reach 49% of the global population and will encompass 40% of all global trade making up a third of the global GDP.

Contact
Yudhvir Singh BKU - 9899435968
S Kanniayan, – 9444989543
Dharmendra, BKU – 9219691168


NOTES


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

OPINION: Adoption of the Peasant’s Rights Declaration enriches the human rights system



The approval and adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas represent a historic event for the international human rights system itself, as well as for the peasant communities of the world. This has been a 17-year struggle on the part of La Via Campesina, which, along with allies, has managed to galvanize debate within the United Nations on the role and circumstances of the peasantry.

In full neoliberal offensive, at the end of the 1990s, financial capital wrapped its tentacles even more tightly around the countryside, and the commercialization and financialization of agriculture resulted in dispossession and evictions, an increase in violence and the persecution of peasant communities, the privatization of seeds, slave labour, the destruction of local markets and an increase in hunger and migration, the destruction of nature and pollution, among other scourges.

This neoliberal onslaught deepened the mechanisms of the Green Revolution, increasing its capacity for hoarding and destruction, hand in hand with transgenic technology associated with the massive use of agrotoxics. The only objective: huge profits for transnational companies, but at the cost of serious consequences for humanity.

In the countryside, the concentration and privatization of land, insecure and slave labour, pollution with agrotoxics, and the destruction of millions of hectares of native jungle and forest have increased. As this process progressed, resistance in the countryside grew, which brought along with it the persecution and criminalization of peasants. Violence in the countryside is an element that sustains agribusiness; peasants are murdered and imprisoned, and the reallocation of public resources to agribusiness deprives peasants of access to credit and markets.

Neoliberal propaganda included the idea of the end of history as part of its attempt to depoliticize society.  In the agricultural sphere, the “End of the Peasantry” theory was launched, suggesting that peasant families would disappear, and that only agribusiness was capable of feeding humanity.

In the field of international governance, the international neoliberal lobby promoted new institutions, treaties and agreements that constructed a framework of jurisprudence, which, instead of being anchored in human rights and democracy, is based on the Freedom of financial capital and the shielding of companies from the resistance and struggle of the people. A clear example is the UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants), which is responsible for legitimizing the appropriation of traditional, hereditary knowledge.

Peasant organizations resisted in every corner of the world. The establishment of La Via Campesina exists in this context, bringing to light the struggle for land and against the World Trade Organization (WTO) and free market policies, which have opened the door to corporations on every continent.

As industrial agriculture develops, the global food crisis, as well as the climate crisis, become even more severe. Faced with this situation, La Via Campesina, as well as giving a voice to the resistance, systematizes its proposals and its outlook to give hope. Not only is this not the end of the peasantry, but, on the contrary, the peasantry is part of the possible solution to the crises caused by the capital accumulation dynamics. This is how the debate on food sovereignty began, and the Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform was launched. These debates burst onto the scene of the United Nations World Food Security Council in 1996. The idea was put forward that into order to solve the food crisis, the development and strengthening of peasant and local agriculture is a necessary, and to achieve this, land must be democratized.

In this way, the discussion on peasant rights has always gone hand in hand with proposals on the agrarian policy necessary to overcome the food crisis.

In 2001, an international congress on peasant rights was held in Indonesia, which was coordinated by the Peasant Union of Indonesia (SPI), and in which the need to build a declaration on peasant rights within the United Nations was raised for the first time.

In 2003, at the 4th International Conference of LVC, which was held in Sao Paulo, Brasil, the final declaration stated that: “We will acquire a new commitment to driving the fight for Human and Peasant Rights. As international peasant organizations, we will develop an International Charter of Peasant Rights”. Between 2004 and 2006, together with CETIM and FIAN, paradigmatic cases of violations of peasant rights were verified and documented on all continents.

Intense work in the Human Rights Council

In June 2008, the International Conference on Peasant Rights took place in Jakarta, with the participation of more than a hundred representatives from the organizations that make up La Via Campesina all over the world, and of more than a thousand members of SPI; in the same year, in October, the 5th International Conference of La Via Campesina, held in Mozambique, approved the Charter of Peasant Rights. Propelled by the support of thousands of local struggles, and hundreds of reports documenting violations in rural communities, the challenge began in the United Nations.

This charter, that would later be the starting point for the Declaration, was born directly from the experiences and struggles of peasants all over the world. Because of this, we affirm that the Declaration is a direct representation of this reality and its recognition by the UN.

In 2012, after much hard work, the UN Human Rights Council resolved to create an Intergovernmental Working Group, the mission of which would be to propose to the Council a text declaring the rights of peasants. This Group was chaired by the Plurinational State of Bolivia, supported by South Africa and the Philippines in coordination. Since then, a group of experts has carried out a study on the situation and proposed a text based on the charter of La Via Campesina, adapting the language to the standards of the United Nations.

Bolivia guaranteed a transparent and participatory process in the Council. Over six years, five drafts were modified after each session, taking into account the contributions of States and civil society, the latter of which actively aligned itself with the process, represented by organizations of peasants, artisanal fishers, pastoralists, agrarian workers, indigenous peoples and human rights (HR) organizations, who actively participated with their proposals.

During 2013 and 2014, the debate was taken to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where CLOC LVC, together with FIAN and CELS presented reports on the relationship between the violation of peasant rights in the region and transnational corporations.

On 28 September 2018, the Human Rights Council adopted the declaration, which was voted in by a comfortable margin, and which represented, without a doubt, an important step forward on the part of the human rights system from a pluricultural and humanist perspective. The official report presenting the definitive text highlighted the urgent call of the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, to finalize work on the draft Declaration, “in order to respond to more than a billion people who live in rural areas and who provide a significant proportion of the world’s food”. The report also underlined the support of FAO for the Declaration, considering that it will contribute to the zero-hunger objective and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, helping these people to achieve their potential to overcome the challenges that they face in their day-to-day life.

This process sparked various debates within the United Nations; firstly, on the recognition of the peasantry as a significant, worldwide class, who suffer systematic violations of their rights, and secondly, whether the interests of human rights or the corporate interests of transnationals should take precedence. In this regard, the answer of the Human Rights Council was unmistakeable: Human Rights should prevail, and this Declaration is an essential instrument to allow the establishment of standards and policies in the countryside that guarantee the rights of peasants. The perspective of collective human rights is also an important part of the pluricultural worldview of the system.

Since the beginning, the process was supported by the Latin American integration process, with CELAC itself backing it, as well as GRULAC (Group of Latin American Countries in the United Nations); the G77 later added their support, paving the way for Asia and Africa, where it also received widespread endorsement. As expected, the countries that are most subservient to the interests of transnationals, and that are most imperialistic and colonialist, opposed the process from the beginning: the USA, the United Kingdom, Israel, Japan and most of the European Union were unwavering in their negative position.

However, in December 2018, and by a broad majority, the United Nations General Assembly approved and adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.

Brazil and Argentina had given their support throughout the process, but when Macri and Bolsonaro came to power, they moved to abstain; conversely, Mexico, which had expressed misgivings, voted in favour after Andres Manel López Obrador was elected President.

The adoption of the Declaration puts an end to the neoliberal idea of the “end of the peasantry” and strongly calls upon States not just to recognise peasants’ identity, but also their role, and to work to put an end to violations of their rights. This takes place in the context of serious global rural violence, with extreme situations such as that of Colombia, in which, in 2018, 105 peasant leaders and 44 indigenous leaders were killed, or that of Brazil, where in 2017, 71 peasants were killed as a result of land or environmental conflicts.

According to the ETC Group, peasant agriculture makes use of only a quarter of world’s farmland, but feeds more than 75% of the world population, while agroindustry, subservient to financial capital, feeds only 25% of the population with three quarters of the farmland.

Guaranteeing the survival of the peasant lifestyle and mode of production is strategic for the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and the process coincides with the launch of the Decade for Family Farming, reaffirming the importance of the topic in this context.

Peasant rights and States’ obligations

In its Preamble and 28 articles, the Declaration establishes the rights of peasants and the obligations of States; the text is an essential overview for the planning and renewal of global agrarian policy at all levels.

Elements to be underlined:

Article 15 stresses that: “Peasants have the right to define their own food production systems, this being recognised by many States and regions as the right to food sovereignty”. Thus, the United Nations recognises and backs the policy proposal that La Via Campesina introduced in 1996 into the debates of the United Nations Food Security Council regarding how to tackle the food crisis, which affects more than a billion people all over the world.

Article 16 establishes that: “States will take appropriate measures to strengthen and support local, national and regional markets in ways that facilitate and guarantee that peasants and other people working in rural areas have access to these markets and participate fully in them under equal conditions in order to sell their products at prices that allow them and their families to reach a decent standard of living”. The importance of state intervention to guarantee fair prices and a decent income is underlined. In Argentina, the price difference between what the peasant receives and what the consumer pays is between 500 and 1600%, a situation that can only be resolved with public policies that intervene in defence of producers and consumers.

Article 17 states that: “Peasants and other people living in rural areas have rights to the land, either individually or collectively (…) and in particular, they have the right to access the land, bodies of water and forests, as well as to use them and manage them sustainably in order to reach decent living standards and to have a place in which they can live safely and securely, in peace and with dignity, and in which to develop their culture” and it recommends to States “Agrarian Reform, to facilitate fair access to the Land and its social function, avoiding the concentration of land”.

This article is vital in the current context of land concentration and land grabbing. In Latin America, half of all land is concentrated in the hands of 1% of landholders, and this region has the most unequal land distribution on the planet: the Gini coefficient – which measures inequality, with 0 for complete equality and 1 for extreme inequality – applied to the land distribution in the continent is 0.79, much higher than in Europe (0.57), Africa (0.56) or Asia (0.55).

According to OXFAM, in Argentina, 83% of Agricultural Productive Units possess only 13.3% of the productive land. According to another study, Family Farming represents two-thirds of producers, but these only have access to 13.5% of the farmland. In 2014, the Argentinian Government carried out a case study on peasant land conflict: as a result, 752 cases involving more than 9 million hectares in conflict were found.

Land concentration is a structural barrier to the development of a nation and peasants’ full enjoyment of their rights.

Article 19 states that: “Peasants have the right to seeds (…) The right to protect their traditional knowledge relating to phylogenetic resources for food and agriculture; (…) The right to participate in decision-making on issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of phylogenetic resources for food and agriculture”.  Faced with the permanent advance of transnationals in the appropriation of genetic material and strong pressure for seed laws that support it among outrage, this article takes on a particular significance.

Another troubling recent piece of information concerns agrotoxics. The massive use of agrochemicals causes the death by poisoning of around 200,000 people a year all over the world according to a Report from the Special Rapporteur on the right to food. According to the Pan-American Health Organization, in 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, poisoning by agrochemical products causes 15% of recorded deaths.

In Argentina, reports from SENASA show that between 2011 and 2013, 63% of tests conducted on fruit and vegetables on the market detected the presence of chemical residue. This data highlights the limitations to the right to health and to a healthy environment and food set forth in the Declaration.

The adoption of the Declaration enriches the human rights system, managing to place the democratic debate between States before the lobby and interests of capital, updating the system from a pluricultural perspective and respecting the billions of people who consider collective rights essential for the enjoyment of individual rights.

New challenges

We are now entering a stage of new challenges, in which we hope that the Declaration will be a tool for peasant struggles. For this reason, we must work to allow peasant organizations to make the Declaration their own, making their voice heard by academics, trade unions, lawmakers and officials so that the Declaration can be adopted at the local, provincial and national levels, as well as becoming an instrument for dialogue between organizations and States in order to move towards new legislation that translates States’ obligations into suitable agrarian policies. The Declaration will also be an important contribution to the legal aspect of agrarian conflicts.

By bringing the Declaration to all corners of the world, we will move forward in a process of greater global advocacy, as possibilities are emerging for new mechanisms for the promotion and monitoring of the Declaration within the United Nations, as well as the future prospect of building an International Convention on the Rights of Peasants.

In the current context of the global crisis of capitalism, in which American imperialism cannot resign itself to losing parts of the market and seeks to deepen its ties to Latin America, the respect of the rights of peasants will only be possible if we manage to express our extensive and continuous struggles. The Declaration that we achieved in the United Nations is also a tool for grassroots work, social unrest and the organization of peasants all over the world, as well as to allow us to express ourselves for the unity and political education of peasant leaders.

To be effective, peasant rights require Agrarian Reform throughout the world that guarantees Peasant Agriculture and Agroecology in order to reach Food Sovereignty, which is vital for justice and world peace; therefore, we reaffirm that this Declaration, with strong humanist contents, represents a great step forward for global governance and the peoples of the world. Far from being the “end of the peasantry”, we reaffirm that peasants are main actors in the struggles for social justice all over the world, and an undisputed part of the solution to the food crisis and migration, which are caused and worsened by financial capital and agribusiness.

– Diego Montón, International Peasants’ Rights Collective, La Via Campesina.

Reblogged from viacampesina.org/en

La Via Campesina: 2018 Annual report


Title: La Via Campesina – 2018 Annual report

Year: June 2019

Language: English (also available in French and Spanish)

Summary: The 2018 Annual Report highlights the selected activities and the advances made during the year towards strengthening the international movement. The year 2018 ended on a truly special and historic note with the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly held in New York. This is the culmination of a two-decade long mobilization and lobbying effort led by peasants supported by allies and many other social movements. While the year ended on a high note, 2018 also presented several difficult moments: Right-wing populism and fascism increased, so did violent repression and hate speech also on social media; worsening climate change effects etc. Internally, we made a major effort to not only to build a different and just society but to transform the organizational structure and internal functioning of La Via Campesina and to end all forms of violence against women everywhere. Two new internal collectives on training and communication were established to imagine and strategize how to effectively coordinate and support popular struggles and make peasants more conscious of their culture, dignity, interests and capacities to change and transform the society.

Edition: La Via Campesina

Monday, July 15, 2019

India : Major Farmer Unions Resolve Collectively To Uphold Farmers’ Seed Rights

New Delhi : In a press release issued today, prominent farmer leaders of India have cautioned the government that if it does not take strong action to stop illegal GM crop cultivation, they would be forced to take up country-wide agitations. Releasing a letter written to the apex regulatory body for gene technologies, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), they demanded that the event developer be made legally liable for any illegal GM crop cultivation in the country.

“We will strongly resist any move to bring in GM crops into the country, including through illegal cultivation, as was the case with Bt cotton in India. This is a clear case where government has to take a sane policy decision, using a precautionary approach and ensure that GMOs do not jeopardise our environmental sustainability, or farmer livelihoods or consumer health”, said Yudhvir Singh of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).

Read the press release here.

Monday, July 8, 2019

South Asian Peasant movements meet in Kathmandu, Nepal


All Nepal Peasants Federation (ANPFa) hosted the regional meeting of La Via Campesina South Asia in Kathmandu from 01 July to 04 July. The meeting was attended by the member organizations, observers and ally groups. Members from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India took part in the 3-day long meeting making a collective commitment to unify the struggles in the region to realize food sovereignty and to also strengthen the solidarity across the region. This important meeting also realized the need for gender equality and training of next-generation youth to carry forward the fight for food sovereignty.

In the context of Nepal, the movement for food sovereignty and agrarian reform is particularly relevant, Nepal is one of the handfuls of countries that have recognized food sovereignty as a people’s right in its constitution. A highly diverse country with rich cultural heritage, which is in its first decades of democracy, Nepal is a landlocked hilly country where the ravages of agribusiness have not penetrated very deeply. After fighting against the monarchy, Nepal’s people are in the process of constructing a democracy. However, many acute crises such as high levels of migration of young people, agricultural land fragmentation, political volatility, natural disasters, and a struggling economy are still big challenges to overcome for the people.


On, the opening day, all the attending members observed a minute of silence in the memory of farmers martyrs who gave up their lives fighting for farmers’ issues. The meeting was inaugurated by comrade Bamdev Gautam, the chair of All Nepal Peasants Association. He revisited the history of peasant struggles in Nepal and spoke about its achievements and challenges ahead for the peasants of Nepal. He remembered the role of La Via Campesina in the historical struggle for democracy in Nepal and emphasized the importance of internationalism among peasant organizations and activists. Chukki Nanjundaswamy, Shanta Manabi and Yudhvir Singh, the Ex-ICC members and Balaram Banskota, senior leader of ANPFa spoke about the historical struggle and birth of La Via Campesina. They gave a historical analysis of the South Asian region, remembering the days of the emergence of Via Campesina in the South Asian region.

On day one, the first half of the day was spent reflecting on the national and regional context, it was evident that the agrarian crisis has aggravated affecting millions of farmers and farm workers households in the subcontinent. All the speakers expressed concerns about rising fundamentalism, the rise of fascist governments in the region and made a collective commitment to denounce and carry forward the fight for a just and equitable society. The governments backed by neo-liberal and corporate regimes have become least interested in responding to the problems of peasants. It was noted that drought, market failure, farmer suicides, and land grabbing as the common problems faced by the peasants. The recent bomb attacks in Srilanka was condemned by all the members and reinstated their solidarity for the people of Srilanka.

La Via Campesina - South Asia
about 2 weeks ago
Regional Meeting of La Via Campesina South Asia hosted by All Nepal Peasants' Federation-ANPFa started today in Kathmandu.
L’image contient peut-être : 2 personnes, personnes souriantes, personnes debout
L’image contient peut-être : 3 personnes, personnes assises et intérieur
L’image contient peut-être : 1 personne, assis et intérieur
L’image contient peut-être : 1 personne, assis, boisson et intérieur
+5

The second half of the first day was spent reviewing the agitations and campaigns carried out by each of the individual members to advance the struggles for justice. The meeting discussed the issues ranging from the deepening crisis of agrarian distress and water shortage, that has led to severe problems for farmers and farmworkers in India, the struggle of tenant farmers against the brutal criminalization by the Military in Pakistan, the fight against the uprising communalism and fight to secure dignified wages for plantation workers under the Thousand Movement in Srilanka and to the fight in Bangladesh against the commercial release of Golden rice.

On the second day, Afsar Jafri, policy analyst and researcher with GRAIN, presided over his presentation where he discussed the Common struggles of farming in South Asia. He identified the common threats for peasant farming and gave an in-depth analysis of the repeated attempt by multinational corporations and governments to capture the land, seeds, natural resources, and local peasant markets through the creation and amendment of laws and through attempts to harmonize these laws across the South Asia region. These efforts of harmonization would allow big multinationals to enter the market. So far the peasant movements in the regions have been resisting these attempts but the global forces of capital are making big strides in the region. The big mergers in Agribusiness, FTAs, and RCEP that threatens to destruct the sovereignty of nations was also noted with much concern.

A considerable amount of time was also spent in reviewing the several international processes – such as the ongoing decade of family farming, the discussions going at the Civil Society Mechanism within the FAO, the resistances against introducing new GM technologies, climate-smart agriculture and more. The delegates following important collective processes such as Agroecology, seeds and biodiversity, Migration, Trade presented the proceedings and results of internal consultations and meetings. It was reiterated and agreed by all the members that the reports and actions from these International processes should be translated to work at the regional level and it must be disseminated to the grassroots. The members present met as four separate working groups to discuss strengthening the work of Internal Collectives. They came up with assessments and reflections of the work carried out on various themes under collectives, they also identified the relevant collective work that is important for the South Asia region. The members also proposed a new regional working collective on the alternative economy.

The women members of South Asia also held a side meeting where they discussed the updates from the International articulation and meetings. The women decided to assert their rightful representation and they decided to voice out for the gender parity starting from their member organizations and work towards ensuring gender balance at all the regional level meetings.

The youth members had a brief brainstorming session to discuss their issues. The decisions were taken to create equal representation at all levels of the movement and to ensure that younger people are trained politically to take forward the several inter-regional and inter-continental struggles forward, within and outside the movement.

On the third day, a training seminar was organized on the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP). Professor Ravivarma Kumar, a senior advocate of Supreme court and Mr.Afsar Jafri presented on the UNDROP. They discussed the historical struggle of Via Campesina in achieving victory to realize this Declaration at the UN level.

Prof Ravivarma gave detailed legal insights into the Declaration. Member organizations realized the need to popularise this Declaration and use it in all the struggles. The member organizations also committed to translate the Declaration into local languages and to organize training on UNDROP.

On the last day, the participants went on a field visit to see the initiatives carried out by farmers of ANPFa. They visited agriculture cooperative setup by ANPFa and run by farmers of Chautara Sangachokgadhi village in Sindhupalchok. Also, they visited the collective organic vegetable farm run by the women's group of ANPFa in Kathmandu. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Farmers groups call on governments to scrap Karuturi Global's new land deal in Ethiopia.





























Karuturi Global's new land deal in Ethiopia must be scrapped


Anywaa Survival Organisation, GRAIN, Kenya Peasants' League, South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers' Movements | 13 June 2019 

Two years ago, indigenous communities in Gambella, Ethiopia, celebrated the departure of the Indian company Karuturi Global, after its contract for a 300,000 hectares agribusiness project was finally cancelled.1 But a diplomatic intervention by the Indian government and law suits filed by the company appear to have pushed Ethiopian authorities to backtrack and offer a new lease, this time for 15,000 hectares. Once again, the local communities have not been consulted, and a coalition of groups is now urgently calling on the local authorities to put a stop to the process.

On 22 April 2019, Karuturi Global informed its shareholders that it had been "granted 15,000 ha of land for agricultural activities." Annexed to its communiqué was a letter from the Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resource Development of the Gambella Regional Government instructing the Special Woreda of Etang to revise Karuturi's lease agreement and sign a new agreement for 15,000 hectares. The letter indicates that the decision is a result of the Indian government's diplomatic intervention with Ethiopia's ambassador to India and Karuturi's lawsuit against the Ethiopian government for damages.2

Karuturi was initially granted a 50-year renewable lease in 2009 to produce various food crops on 100,000 hectares in Jikawo District and Itang Special District in the Gambella Region, with an option for expansion to 300,000 hectares. According to the lease contract, Karuturi had to bring 100,000 hectares under cultivation within two years.3 However, by 2014, Karuturi was only producing on 1,200 hectares and operations at the farm had stalled.4 During those initial five years, the Karuturi project displaced local people, caused deforestation and other negative environmental impacts and made no contribution to local or national food security. Given the various tax incentives given to the company, it also provided little, if any, revenue to the country and no decent jobs for locals. In March 2013, 92 Ethiopian workers at Karuturi's Gambella farm filed a complaint with the Department of Labour and Social Welfare claiming that their salaries were delayed and that the company had not provided identity cards, safety equipment, medical treatment or proper residence. The department found workers living in cramped metal shacks without proper ventilation.5

As the Ethiopian government became aware of Karuturi's lack of capacity to farm at such a scale, it reacted by reducing the size of the land allocation. It began with a reduction to 100,000 hectares in 2010 and then to 1,200 hectares in 2015, despite threats by Karuturi that it would sue the Ethiopian authorities through the investor protections afforded under the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency or the investor-state dispute provisions of the India-Ethiopia bilateral investment treaty.6

In September 2017, Karuturi announced it would finally be exiting Ethiopia altogether, but demanded compensation, claiming that the government had decided to “unilaterally and illegally cancel our investment and trade license.”7 Then, In November 2017, it was reported that the Indian government was pursuing meetings with the Ethiopian embassy in India to assist Karuturi in negotiating with the Ethiopian government to maintain rights to a portion of its initial Gambella concession.8 A few months later, in April 2018, Karuturi told The Reporter that it was withdrawing its legal case against the government and would be signing a fresh lease for 25,000 hectares.9 The recent letter from the Gambella authorities, annexed to Karuturi's April 2019 circular to shareholders, appears to back up these assertions, although the lease that is referred to is for 15,000 hectares.

Anywaa Survival Organisation (ASO) is in close communication with the communities affected by Karuturi’s agribusiness project in Gambella. These communities continue to oppose the return of Karuturi and the government’s issuance of a new land lease for agribusiness, as it will destroy their natural environment, livelihoods and food systems. There is no evidence that the company has offered guarantees this time around that it will provide social and economic benefits to local communities as part of the new lease agreement.

Karuturi has also been using aggressive tactics to try and salvage its 200 hectare flower farm in Kenya. In 2014, the farm was put into receivership after the company fell so deep into debt that it couldn't pay its suppliers.10 The receiver-managers then tried to sell off the farm's assets, to cover their losses, but Karuturi has doggedly tried to stop them in the courts.11 The legal conflict over the farm itself is still ongoing. Over these years, the farm’s former workers in Naivasha have sunk deeper and deeper into abject poverty, selling their bodies and harvesting water from the extremely polluted lake just to survive.12

Karuturi’s corporate leadership, however, continues to produce a public relations mirage about all this, including towards their shareholders, which include international investors like Citibank North America and Deutsche Bank AG. For example, in their annual report for 2018, the directorsThey repeatedly claim that Karuturi Global Limited is "the world’s largest producer of cut roses" and has "a global presence in Asia, America and Europe". Karuturi is definitely not the world's largest producer of cut roses,even though it is not true, Sher Ethiopia PLC (Afriflora) is.13 And Karuturi has no presence in Europe.14

Despite such egregious misleading information, the company has managed to attract a fresh capital commitment from Phoenix Global, the world's second largest rice trader, based in Dubai.15 It is not clear if these funds are for Karuturi’s Ethiopia operations or Kenya operations or both, and whether they are meant to help Karuturi get back on its feet in these countries or eventually take the company over.

Karuturi is one of numerous companies that have grabbed large areas of land in Africa over the past decade and have failed to implement industrial agriculture projects.16 Many of these companies targeted Ethiopia because of the central government’s policy of forcibly removing communities to allocate large swaths of land and providing generous incentives to foreign investors. With a new leadership in power in Addis Ababa, it was hoped that the Ethiopian government would break with this failed policy and turn instead to supporting local food systems and small scale food producers. Karuturi is a critical test case of this new government.

The good news is that the lease agreement has still not been issued by the relevant authorities in Gambella. There is, therefore, still time for the Ethiopian authorities to do the right thing and stop from issuing Karuturi a new lease.

The Indian government should also step back from this process. It must consider the rights of the people of Ethiopia and not pressure Ethiopian authorities into giving up farmlands to Indian companies, especially those with a track record of tax disputes, labour conflicts and complicity in human rights abuses.

--

1 See Anywaa Survival Organisation and GRAIN, “Turono Karuturi (“Bye-bye Karuturi” in Anuak)”, 22 September 2017: https://grain.org/e/5803
2 “Karuturi - Will new land deal prove fertile?”, Hindu Business Line, 22 April 2019:https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/markets/stock-markets/karuturi-will-new-land-deal-prove-fertile/article26913517.ece
3 See the contract here: https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/Karuturi-Agreement.pdf
4 Muluken Yewondwossen, "Government agency strips Karuturi’s land privilege," Capital, 4 January 2016: https://farmlandgrab.org/25644
5 See Anywaa Survival Organisation, "It’s time to end land grabs and establish food sovereignty in Gambela", May 2018:https://www.anywaasurvival.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/aso_report_may_2018.pdf
6 See GRAIN, "Failed farmland deals: A growing legacy of disaster and pain," June 2018: https://grain.org/e/5958
7 See Anywaa Survival Organisation and GRAIN, “Turono Karuturi (“Bye-bye Karuturi” in Anuak)”, 22 September 2017: https://grain.org/e/5803
8 Teshome Tadesse, "The Indian company Karuturi Global requests to resume its operations in Ethiopia," News.et, 28 November 2017:https://www.farmlandgrab.org/27693
9 Birhanu Fikade, "Karuturi to start afresh in Ethiopia", The Reporter, 21 April 2018: https://farmlandgrab.org/28088
10 See Tax Justice Network, Forum Syd Kenya, GRAIN, Anywaa Survival Organisation and South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements, “Karuturi, the iconic landgrabber, flops”, 14 February 2014, https://grain.org/e/4885.
11 See summary presented by Galgallo Fayo, “Nothing rosy for Karuturi as world marks lovers’ day”, Business Daily, 12 February 2019,https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/markets/capital/Nothing-rosy-for-Karuturi-world-marks-/4259442-4978636-xxqt7m/index.html. A collection of key articles is also available at https://www.farmlandgrab.org/cat/show/348.
12 See KBC, “The ripple effect caused by closure of Sher Karuturi flower farm,” 5 June 2018, https://www.kbc.co.ke/ripple-effect-closure-sher-karuturi-flower-farm/ and George Murage, “Former flower farm workers now fetch water from lake”, The Star, 13 April 2019, https://www.the-star.co.ke/business/2019-04-13-former-flower-farm-workers-now-fetch-water-from-lake/
13 According to their website in 2018, Afriflora have 650 ha under greenhouse cultivation and produce 1.1 billion stems per year. (See https://afriflora.nl/en/about-us/ and https://afriflora.nl/en/an-affiliate-sun-european-partners-llp-announces-that-it-has-agreed-to-acquire-a-majority-stake-afriflora). Even in Kenya, Anoko Insights data on volume of production in 2018 does not even list Karuturi (Rabobank, personal communication with GRAIN on 2018-11-19).
14 Sher Karuturi BV, in the Netherlands, went bankrupt in 2014 and was dissolved and deregistered in 2015.
15 Phoenix/Karuturi, “Phoenix Group announces investment into Karuturi Global,” 19 March 2018https://www.karuturi.com/uploads/1/1/8/7/118720540/phoenix_group_announces_investment_into_karuturi_global.pdf
16 See GRAIN, "Failed farmland deals: A growing legacy of disaster and pain," June 2018: https://grain.org/e/5958

Thursday, May 9, 2019

PepsiCo faces major backlash in India, as farmers fight back


09 May 2019: PepsiCo India Holdings Private Limited (PIH), Indian subsidiary of the global giant Pepsico had sued Gujarat-based farmers for growing a hybrid potato variant — FL 2027 aka FC5 — which the firm claims to have exclusive rights to, by virtue of a Plant Variety Certificate they acquired.

Live Law reported that In the commercial trademark suit filed in Ahmedabad City Commercial Court against four farmers, PepsiCo India Holdings Ltd has claimed that in 2016 it obtained registration under The Protection of Plant Varieties and Protection of Farmers Rights Act 2001 to breed a special variety of potato, which is used in making “Lays” chips.

It is also being reported that in their bid to ‘gather evidence’ against these farmers, the firm had allegedly employed a private intelligence agency to collect samples from the farmers’ fields, offering a striking resemblance to the surveillance tactics used by Monsanto against Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser in 1998.

Protests ensued across India.

Among them, the agitation organised by Bhartiya Kisan Union on 1st of May witnessed hundreds of farmers gathering at the Muzzafarnagar collectorate and protesting against the lawsuit.

“Farmers have a right to produce any crop which benefits them. In Gujarat, PepsiCo filed cases against potatoes farmers which is totally wrong and illegal.” , said Rakesh Tikait, National spokesperson of Bhartiya Kisan Union.

During the agitation in Bijnor, farmers brought bottles of soft drink and emptied its contents as a mark of protest. They handed over a memorandum to district magistrate, Sujeet Kumar while addressing it to the President of India. They demanded withdrawal of cases lodged against potato farmers in Gujarat. Farmers threatened the company that if the company fails to withdraw the cases, they will stage a huge protest in UP and other states.


Prior to this, several mobilisations had already taken place in Gujarat and across India.

The Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) shot off a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture in which it said;

Everything about this entire operation is in fact against the law, and it is not the farmers who are violating the law, but the company. The The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFRA) has always been projected as a law to protect farmers’ rights. The protection ought not be tied to only when farmers register their varieties with the Authority.

The Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights Act was enacted in India as a sui generis framework at the national level, after India had signed on to the WTO TRIPS in 1995. As is well known, the PPV&FR Act 2001 has upheld the apriori rights of farmers of the country, by explicitly stating under Sec. 39 (1) (iv) the following:

Chapter VI , Farmers’ Rights: Sec. 39 (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act:
(iv) a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into the force of this Act, provided that the farmer shall not be entitled to sell branded seed of a variety protected under this Act.

It is important to note and underscore the importance of this qualifying statement, which says “notwithstanding anything contained in this Act” which means that this clause is more important than clauses that provided exclusive rights to a registrant, and also that farmers are entitled to apriori rights and practices by virtue of the line on “(protection) in the same manner as he was entitled to, before the coming into the force of this Act”. Both these indicate that farmers’ rights are squarely upheld by this Act and are non-compromisable.

The PPVFRA, writes Biswajit Dhar in the Hindu Businessline, was enacted in 2001 after engaging debates were held in the country for more than a decade as to how intellectual property rights should be introduced in Indian agriculture after the country joined the World Trade Organisation in 1995 and agreed to implement the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

He writes;

The choice before India was to either enact a law that protected the interests of farming communities, or to accept the framework of plant breeders’ rights given by the International Union for Protection of New Plant Varieties (better known by its French acronym, UPOV Convention). The latter option was rejected primarily because the current version of UPOV, which was adopted in 1991 (UPOV ’91), denies the farmers the freedom to re-use farm saved seeds and to exchange them with their neighbours.


India introduced a chapter on Farmers’ Rights, which has three legs: one, farmers are recognised as plant breeders and they can register their varieties; two, farmers engaged in the conservation of genetic resources of land races and wild relatives of economic plants and their improvement through selection and preservation are recognised and rewarded; and, three, protecting the traditional practices of the farmers of saving seeds from one harvest and using the saved seeds either for sowing for their next harvest or sharing them with their farm neighbours.

Pepsico withdraws case, but fears of an out of court settlement looms

Coming under pressure from farmers’ organisations and civil society, Pepsico announced that it would withdraw the cases after holding discussions with the government. “We are relying on the discussions to find a long-term and an amicable resolution of all issues around seed production,” a company statement said.

Activists are worried of an ‘out of court settlement’ and at media reports that stated the Gujarat government had decided to persuade farmers not to grow the FL2027 or, if they did, to sell the produce only to PepsiCo. 

The Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) has recated to this news by saying that any settlement which does not reiterate and reinforce Section 39 (1) (iv) of the PPV&FR Act was not acceptable and even unpardonable.

“The Section 39(1) (iv) of the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Act 2001 is satisfactory and justifiable. This specific section of the sui generis statute that India brought in 2001, provides an entitlement to farmers of India to cultivate any variety that they would like to, including PVP-registered varieties. The section is applicable irrespective of the source of seed, type of seed, type of registrant, type of crop, and to who and how the harvest was sold. Nothing matters except whether the farmer has sold branded seeds or not, as far as farmers’ rights are concerned,” ASHA stated in a press release.

In his article on Newsclick elaborating on Pepsiso’s war on India’s farmers, Sr Journalist and activist Prabir Purkayastha reminds that this case follows an earlier case in May last year in Delhi High Court where Monsanto has claimed patent rights over its Bt Cotton seed and sued a Telangana seed company. The Bt patent case will now be heard on the central issue whether Monsanto’s claim of patent on these seeds is valid under Indian Patent law.

“At the heart of the struggle is capital’s need – Monsanto and PepsiCo’s – to continuously enclose spheres and generate surpluses from creating a monopoly over something that it does not actually own. This is the use of what capital calls “Intellectual Property”, which is essentially human knowledge and creativity accumulated over centuries and millenia. A small tweak in knowledge or creativity produces something which we recognise as new or innovative. How do we separate this from what went before? Why is it that only the last mile – the latest tweak – should be a monopoly and not what the farmers have grown over thousands over years?”, Prabir writes.

As on date, Pepsico has withdrawn 1 out of 3 cases it had filed against the potato farmers in Gujarat.

However, Newsclick reports that Mr. Anand Yagnik, the lawyer representing the farmers, maintained that the withdrawal of the case appeared “malicious and motivated” because it is still unclear what had transpired behind the curtain between the PepsiCo and the State of Gujarat.


Also watch:


Thursday, April 18, 2019

17 April: Farm workers in Gazipur, Bangladesh mobilise to demand agrarian reform


In the memory of 19 Brazilian landless peasants who were massacred in Eldorado do Carajás on 17 April 1996,the Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation (BAFLF) and National Women Farmers and Workers association (NWFA) observed International Day of Peasant’s Struggle on this date.

They called for the implementation of the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas, which was adopted by United Nations General Assembly on 17 December, 2018.

Hundreds of farmers, farm workers, peasant women attended the demonstration at Gazipur.

The following demands were placed to esnure the implementation of UN declaration on Peasants’ right:

  • The ownership of land is to be determined on the principal that those who cultivate land are owners of that land.
  • Recognition of peasant women as farmers and ensure equal rights and control over land and other resources
  • Stop the introduction and cultivation of GMO crops including GE Golden Rice and BT Brinjal
  • Resist corporate aggression, the use and import of GMO seeds and ban chemical pesticides
  • Incentive to be given to local farmers to protect local seeds and promote farmers’ control over seeds and territories.
  • Ensuring food sovereignty rights of people through agrarian reform and social justice
  • Government must enhance the capacities of public sector in seeds productions and distribution and more allocation for BADC must be ensured.


BAFLF general Secretary presided over the meeting while NWFA member Sharmin Akter conducted the programme. Among other Golam Sorowor, MD Mamun Hossen, Md Ranju Khan of BAFLF and Nurjahan Begum, Sharmin Sultana of NWFA spoke at the mobilization.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

#17April | Int’l Day of Peasant Struggles 2019: Peasants’ Rights NOW! With Agrarian Reform and social justice! 


Call for Global Action, La Via Campesina

(Harare, April 4, 2019) This April 17th – the International Day of Peasant Struggle – with our living memory and rebellion inherited from our 19 landless comrades murdered with impunity in the Eldorado do Carajás Massacre in Brazil, we call upon our members, friends and allies to come together with strong actions worldwide, affirming that the only way to obtain Peasant Rights is with Agrarian Reform and Social Justice.


On 17 December 2018, the 73rd Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. The Declaration is an international legal instrument. As Via Campesina we must mobilize for its real implementation in our territories, and this implies that the State guarantees access to the land, the protection of seeds facing commercialization, putting a stop to evictions and deaths, as well as creating measures against agrochemicals; social justice means that those who feed the world live in dignified conditions and in peace in the countryside, without being prosecuted for defending their rights and territories.

In this current context of extractivism and the alarming rate at which lands are forcefully grabbed from our people, the urgency of Agrarian Reform proves strategic. Particularly so, since the neoliberal offensive in the whole world is accompanied by the loss of the rights of the working class and consequently of the peasantry.

This is why this April 17th we are mobilizing and calling for struggle and resistance in all territories. We also invite other organized social movements, unions, universities, media who are friends of the peasant movements and governments that prioritize the welfare of its people to join us in the worldwide actions of solidarity.

The rights of peasants cannot be substituted by public policies based on the interest of the global market and agribusiness. We denounce this model that not only marginalizes our peasant communities but also appropriates our rights, common goods and lives, in the name of productivity and for the development of the capitalist system in the countryside.

So, we make a call to lift our fists in unity, in the country and in the cities for Peasant Rights, Food Sovereignty and Agroecology, globalizing the struggle and the hope of the people facing this model of death.
CONSCIOUS social mobilization!

This #17April participate in the multiple actions organized worldwide, organize actions in the territories in the form of protests, discussion forums, seminars, farmers markets, film screenings. Use any of these ways of expressing to demand the implementation of Peasant Rights with Agrarian Reform and Social Justice.

During this day of Global Action, we say that an urgent global Agrarian Reform guarantees Peasant Rights, and we denounce the concentration of land into the hands of a few that we are witnessing at a global scale.

Share your plans with us on this email: lvcweb@viacampesina.org, and we will add them to a global map of actions that we are building online! Also please send articles, audios, pictures and videos of all actions to be able to share them on our website and LaViaCampesinaTV.
Follow us on social networks:
#PeasantsRightsNOW, #AgrarianReformAndSocialJustice, #LaViaCampesina
Peasant Rights NOW! With Agrarian Reform and Social Justice!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) & India

Dangers of the proposed Regional Comprehensive EconomicPartnership (RCEP) for agriculture &  smallholder farmers

By Afsar Jafri

Introduction:


Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are arrangements between two or more countries or trading blocs that primarily agree to reduce or eliminate customs tariff and non-tariff barriers (NTBs) on their imports and exports. The value of imports and exports determine a country’s trade balance, if imports exceed exports, then it has a trade deficit; and if exports are more than country’s import, then it has trade surplus.

The Economic Survey (by the Government of India) of 2015-16 stated that since the mid 2000s till February 2016, India’s FTAs have doubled to about 42, which led to more imports than exports. It said, "Increased trade has been more on the import than export side, because India maintains relatively high tariffs and hence, had larger tariff reductions than its FTA partners." The NITI Aayog’s1 “Note on Free Trade Agreements and Their Costs” expressed similar concern that India’s trade deficit with ASEAN, South Korea and Japan has widened, post-FTAs.

FTAs generally reduce or remove restrictions that hamper free flow of goods and services between the negotiating nations. This includes tariff (duties, surcharges and export subsidies) and non-tariff barriers (like licensing rules and regulations, quotas and, other requirements like quality standards). However, unlike in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), in FTAs tariff reduction is undertaken with reference to a tariff base rate2 mutually agreed upon by both countries to grant “most favoured nation” (MFN) status to the parties concerned. In WTO, tariff reductions are always from the "bound3 tariff rates" determined by the members as part of WTO commitments, and not from the MFN base tariffs rates.

Depending on the bargaining power of the countries involved, FTAs go much further in liberalising trade, services and investments than multilateral trade agreements like the WTO. FTAs are another way to ensure that governments implement the liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation measures of the corporate globalisation agenda. Traditionally North-South FTAs are quite comprehensive and are intended to open up new opportunities for transnational corporations (TNCs) to extract more profits from developing countries. In fact, North-South FTAs are neo-colonial. They turn developing countries into a pool of natural resources or cheap labour for the benefit of northern TNCs. On the other hand, the South-South FTAs (like the India-Sri Lanka FTA) tend to be less comprehensive and less oriented towards an overhaul of national laws, but their impacts on livelihoods of farmers and workers can and have been devastating.

However, in recent years the nature and scope of FTAs among Southern (or developing) countries are becoming similar to FTAs between developed (North) and developing (South) countries because other than covering trade in goods (such as agricultural or industrial products) or trade in services (such as banking, construction, trading, education and other public services, consultancy etc.), almost every FTA today covers intellectual property rights (IPRs), investment, global value chain, government procurement, and competition policy, etc. Therefore, most of the FTAs today go beyond WTO rules and create legally binding obligations on their member/s, restricting their policy space, and have far reaching impacts on livelihoods, access to affordable healthcare, medicines and public services, and protection of traditional knowledge systems. In agriculture, FTAs leads to drastic reduction of import tariffs, facilitate entry of agro-processing and retail firms, and provides for strict IPR provisions that could adversely impact small and marginal farmers, including their rights to save and sell seeds.

There are different kinds of FTAs: bilateral, regional or multilateral. India has signed all these different kinds of FTAs. For example, India has separate bilateral trade agreement with Sri Lanka, South Korea, Japan, and Malaysia where both trading partners agree to reduce trade barriers and confer preferred trade status to each other. Some bilateral trade agreements are also for facilitating investment, called “bilateral investment treaties” (BITs), between a home country and a foreign country or a bloc of countries like the European Union (EU).

The Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) are treaties between three or more neighbouring countries that agree to offer more favourable treatment to trade amongst themselves than they do to goods/services from countries outside the region. India has signed an RTA with its neighbours in South Asia in 2004, known as South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) in order to improve trade and economic relations amongst the member nations of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation).

In the last few years, a new trend has been to negotiate free trade agreements where member countries (i) comprises of more than two; (ii) who are not strictly from the same region or continent; and (iii) the subject matter that goes much beyond the WTO in both coverage and scope. These plurilateral/multilateral trade agreements are referred as “new age” mega regional FTAs not only because of their size in terms of multiple and geographically diverse member countries, but also because of ambitious coverage of issues, which are often referred as ‘WTO-plus’ issues. For example, India is currently negotiating a plurilateral trade agreement known as Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which has sixteen members that include ten members of Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) plus Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. The RCEP negotiations among the 16 nations are moving at a fast pace, and the 25th Round of Negotiations has just concluded in Bali (Indonesia) in February 2019.

The RCEP reflects the emerging global trade and economic architecture. The “Guiding Principles and Objectives for Negotiating RCEP” lays down some principles like broader and deeper engagement with significant improvements over the existing FTAs while recognising the individual and diverse circumstances of countries; facilitating countries’ engagement in global and regional supply chains; and taking into account the different levels of development of participating countries. It also identifies the areas for negotiations such as goods, services, investment, economic & technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, and dispute settlement, with a flexibility to identify other areas. Once the RCEP is finalised, it would be one of the largest trading blocs in the world, covering 45% of the global population, 30% of the global GDP, 27.4% of the world trade in goods, and 23% of the world trade in services.


Impact of Current FTAs

India is already facing severe impact of FTAs in the industrial and agricultural sectors. In last few years, India’s industry groups have constantly raised their concerns on the impact of FTAs with Sri Lanka (1998), Thailand (2003), Singapore (2005), South Korea (2009), ASEAN (2009), Japan (2011), and Malaysia (2011). In almost all these FTAs, imports have grown at a faster pace than exports after the India government agreed to slash tariffs. India's trade deficit with Japan was at $3.6 billion in 2010-11 but rose to almost double at $6.3 billion in 2012-13 after the FTA. Similarly, India’s imports from South Korea increased from $7.8 billion (2007-08 to 2009-10) to $12.1 billion (2010-11 to 2012-13). By comparison, India’s exports to South Korea moved up marginally from $3.4 billion to $4.1 billion and its trade deficit widened from $4.4 billion (pre-FTA) to $8 billion (post-FTA) during the same period.

RCEP would be India’s biggest FTA and the country may have to offer much deeper commitments than already made under its existing FTAs with ASEAN, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

India’s largest and oldest apex business body, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) had demanded for a moratorium on signing of new FTAs. In August 2013, FICCI issued a 12 Point Manufacturing Mandate which said “these FTAs are supposed to provide mutually beneficial results, but experience so far has not been very healthy particularly with regard to manufacturing sector. Hence, it calls for review of existing FTAs and till the time [an] assessment is done Government should have a moratorium on further FTAs”. More recently, on 6th January 2016, the Indian Industry Chambers once again raised their concern against FTAs. In a meeting with the former Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the Industry Chambers said that these agreements benefited the partner nations more. FICCI also repeated its suggestion for a review of existing FTAs before signing of new ones. It said that in many cases, domestic input cost increase is impacting cost of manufacturing while the selling price linked to cost of imports leads to erosion of industry’s pricing power and squeeze in margins to uneconomic levels.

In agriculture sector as well, the consequences of FTAs are quite worse. Tariffs are commonly not only reduced (as it is the case in WTO) but most often completely eliminated. After the signing of India-Sri Lanka FTA, the state of Kerala was severely hit by the increasing imports of cheap black pepper and cardamom from Sri Lanka, after these were imported on a duty-free basis. As of 2015, imports of black pepper from Sri Lanka are still high with the price for the cheaper crop variety being $9,500 - 9,750 per tonne against the Indian offer of $11,400 per tonne. The Indian pepper farmers were further hit by the signing of the India ASEAN FTA, with most of pepper imports now coming from Vietnam (the world’s largest exporter of black pepper) and Indonesia. In 2015, Vietnam exported black pepper for $9,800 a tonne and Indonesia for $9,700 - 9,800, which are both still far below the Indian price. The excessive imports of pepper caused a fall in market prices in India. In 2011-12, local black pepper was 240 rupees (INR) per kilo, but fell to 80 INR in January 2016.

Other than pepper farmers, the FTA with ASEAN also impacted the India’s rubber growers. Till now more than a million rubber farmers have lost their livelihoods4 due to cheap rubber imports from Vietnam and Indonesia. India was self-sufficient in rubber production until 2013, but is now becoming more and more dependent on imports. Between 2013 to 2015, rubber imports almost doubled from 26 lakh (26,00,000) metric tonnes in 2013 to 44 lakh (44,00,000) metric tonnes at the end of 2015. Exports of rubber are at a record low. India exported a mere 1,002 tonnes of rubber in 2015 against 30,549 tonne in 2013, even as the price of Indian rubber dropped from 207 INR per kilo to 132.6 INR per kilo.

Following the signing of the India-ASEAN FTA, coconut farmers in South India also witnessed an unprecedented crisis, with procurement prices of coconut hitting an all-time low of 3 INR per piece. The primary reason for drop in coconut prices was attributed to the cheap import of coconut oil cakes from Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Indonesia.

Despite these serious impacts of FTAs on Indian industry and agriculture, the Indian government is quite enthusiastically negotiating around 18 more FTAs concurrently, including with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the European Union (EU), Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Colombia, African Continental Free Trade Agreement, Uruguay, Mercosur, and Venezuela.

Besides the impact, the process of negotiating these FTAs is also quite problematic and undemocratic—in complete secrecy. During the negotiations, the general public and their parliamentary representatives are denied the right to see any text of these secret trade deals. As a result, none of these bilateral trade agreements faced any kind of stiff opposition from any state government, political party or mass movement. The only notable exception is the India-ASEAN FTA which faced political opposition (from the Left Democratic Front Government of Kerala) as well as resistance from farmers and fishworkers groups of southern India states including Kerala. In India, there is no process of ratification of these FTAs by the National Parliament. In almost every FTA, state governments are excluded from any process of consultation and ratification, even on subjects like agriculture which directly affects their constituents and economies.


Major Concerns about RCEP

Like any other FTA negotiation, the RCEP negotiations completely lack any amount of transparency. No text has been made available to the public or to the sectoral groups who would be impacted by this trade deal, like the farmers, women, labour, health groups, and neither were they consulted to assess the impact. Though RCEP covers an extensive range of topics, the 25 rounds of negotiations have been conducted without any public disclosure. Some leaked documents of RCEP negotiations, however, indicate how far reaching the impacts the RCEP will be on the access to medicine, tax policy, investor rights, and farmers’ access to seeds. In last six years5 of negotiations, RCEP was never discussed on the floor of Indian Parliament, nor was any state government consulted. The consultations are always limited to the business communities in the member nations.

Another concern is ASEAN, which is at the centre of the RCEP. The 16-member FTA is as much about further integrating ASEAN as a group, as it is about deepening and broadening economic integration amongst the ASEAN Plus Six members. India already has an FTA with ASEAN and it never benefited the country. After signing of FTA, India’s trade deficit with ASEAN surged from $4.98 billion in 2010-11 to $9.56 billion in 2016-17. There cannot be a more cogent statement on the inability of Indian producers to compete with their counterparts in this 16-nation mega trade agreement. It will be a disaster for India’s agriculture and manufacturing sector if it agrees to the 92 per cent elimination/reduction of tariff on products under RCEP.

Another big concern is China, which is a key member of this mega FTA. Even without an FTA, India’s trade deficit with China has reached $63 billion in 2017-18, from $16 billion ten years ago in 2007-08. Chinese products have already flooded the Indian consumer market, with the impact most visible in India’s toy industry, lock industry, textile machinery sector, bicycle manufacturing, diesel-engine pump sets and others. A study (2013) by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) on the Indian toy industry stated that, “the Indian market is flooded with Chinese toy imports and that Indian toy manufacturers are being decimated as a result”. Similarly, the Textile Machinery Manufacturers Association (TMMA) objected to the low-cost and low-tech textile machine imports from China, which are between 30 and 50 per cent cheaper. India’s bicycle industry has been drastically impacted by Chinese imports. According to United Bicycle and Parts Manufacturers Association, “Five to six years ago (around 2008-09), the total volume of exports from Ludhiana was about Rs 1,500 crore (15 billion INR). But it is reversed in 2013-14. Export volume has been replaced by imports which range from Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 crore" (15 billion to 20 billion INR). Reduction or elimination of tariff under RCEP would drastically impact India’s manufacturing sector. Furthermore, there is another provision in RCEP which restricts India from having any kind of export restrictions on minerals and raw material, which may threaten domestic raw material availability for industrialisation and encourage over-mining. Moreover, RCEP will most likely also bring an end to export bans on food (mainly wheat and rice), which India has used strategically in the past to ensure food security.

Another important concern about RCEP is the demand from member countries, especially Japan and South Korea, for ‘TRIPS-plus’ intellectual property (IP) protection for seeds, medicines and agrochemicals. This will be disastrous for Indian farmers because the country is under pressure to accede to the 1991 International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties Convention (UPOV)6 and comply with its standards. UPOV is a system of seed patenting that undermines farmers’ rights to save and share patented seeds and plant materials, thus compromising seed sovereignty. UPOV 1991 gives primacy to corporate plant breeders, and restricts freedom of researchers and breeders to access protected plant varieties for further research and development. TRIPS-plus provisions also intensify monopolies over seed, pesticides, fertilisers and animal vaccines, and encourages proprietary agriculture technologies. Whilst TRIPs-plus provisions extend the monopoly rights of large corporations, they offer no such protection for the vast amounts of indigenous knowledge held by Indian farmers and local communities.

Meanwhile, TRIPS-plus provisions in the health sector would mean agreeing to data exclusivity, extending patent terms as well as allowing strong enforcement measures. TRIPS-plus would also weaken the entire generic medicine sector, as it would make generic medicines inaccessible not only for Indian patients but for those in the entire developing world. This would also limit the ability of the Indian government to issue compulsory licenses on medicines as well as compromise the health safeguards provided under India’s Patent Act, notably section 3(d) which prohibits the evergreening of patents.

RCEP’s impact on the dairy industry is another big concern for India. Two RCEP member countries, New Zealand and Australia, have aggressive interest in dairy sector. And if Indian government decides to slash duty on dairy products—especially liquid milk, milk powder [skimmed milk powder (SMP), whole milk powder (WMP)], butter, AMF (anhydrous milk fat or butter oil), and cheddar cheese—the Indian dairy industry will be heavily impacted because all these products are important export products for New Zealand and Australian dairy industry. Compared to India’s 150 million dairy farmers, there are only 12,000 in New Zealand and 6,300 in Australia. India is the world’s largest milk producer, with an annual production of 156 million metric tonnes (MMT), with most of it consumed domestically. There is negligible export of milk or milk products from India. On the other hand, New Zealand produces 22 MMT and exports around 19 MMT while Australia produces 15 MMT and exports 4 MMT. For this reason, dairy corporations like Fonterra (New Zealand) and Saputo (Australia) are looking to RCEP to access India’s massive dairy market to dump their products. India’s dairy cooperatives, like Amul, fear that if import duties on milk and milk products were eliminated under RCEP, it will severely hit not only the dairy industry and cooperatives but also the livelihoods of around 150 million dairy farmers.

On the pretext of boosting trade among the sixteen nations, RCEP will undoubtedly deepen corporate concentration in the food and agriculture sector, and offer powerful rights and profitable market to multinational corporations (MNCs). And to protect their rights and investment, RCEP has a provision for investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) which gives any investor the right to raise claims against a state. If a member does not follow the commitment made under RCEP, a foreign (or domestic!) company has the right to sue the government for damages incurred by the company due to a government policy or intervention. This provision greatly undermines policy space and sovereignty of national governments and places unbridled power in the hands of MNCs. At present, India is already facing around 20 cases of investors suing the government under bilateral investment treaties (BIT). With the RCEP, there is heavy pressure on India to agree to more ISDS provisions.

It is expected that RCEP will be finalised by this year (2019) and therefore, there is an urgent need to raise awareness about the harmful impact of this mega FTA among the people.


What should we demand for:

  • The Indian government must put a moratorium immediately on new FTAs and conduct comprehensive review of all existing FTAs.
  • The Indian government should also conduct an ecological and social impact assessment study to assess the costs and benefits of all FTAs including RCEP, which India is currently negotiating, and make it available for public scrutiny. 
  • The Indian government must bring transparency in FTA negotiating process and make all FTAs (including RCEP) negotiating texts publicly available. 
  • The Indian government must institute a mechanism for time to time broader public consultations on FTAs with all stakeholders including farmers organizations, trade unions, civil society organizations, and representatives of small and medium enterprises to take their concerns and views. 
  • In the spirit of federal polity, the central government must duly consult state governments and gain their consensus on issues that are in the state or concurrent lists such as agriculture, seeds or health. 
  • India should not open up for negotiation the critical sectors such as dairy and agriculture; agriculture must be kept out of any FTA negotiations. 
  • The coverage of FTAs should be strictly limited. India should not agree to open up 92% - 97% of its goods under any FTA. 
  • There should be no 'TRIPS-plus' obligations in agriculture for either data exclusivity or patents on seeds or breeds, etc. 
  • There should be no commitment related to mandatory UPOV Convention membership. 
  • There should be no patents to be allowed on any seed/planting material-related technologies. 
  • Exclude essential public services such as education, health, water and sanitation as well as government procurement from FTA negotiations. 
  • End the excessive investor protection and corporations’ right to sue governments, especially for necessary laws that protect their population or the environment. 
  • Given that intellectual property are included in the definition of investor rights, no ISDS provisions should be accepted. 
  • We also demand for a ratification process for approving FTAs in the Parliament of India. 

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1This is an updated version of the note prepared for the 4th Kisan Swaraj Sammelan 2018, held at Ahmedabad in November 2018. For more information, please contact afsarjafri@yahoo.com .
 The National Institution for Transforming India, also called NITI Aayog, the premier policy think tank of the government.
2 Base rate is the applied MFN duty of any year, which is decided mutually.
3 “Bound tariff or Bound duty rate” are highest level of duty notified in the WTO that a country can impose and cannot exceed at any point in time. By contrast, “applied rate” refer to tariff that are actually applied at any given point in time. The basic rule is: applied rate may be lower but must not exceed the bound rate. Hence bound rate have special significance as they limit the ability of a country to vary tariff.
4 https://scroll.in/article/801858/cheap-imports-imperil-a-million-rubber-farmers
5 The idea of RCEP was first introduced at an ASEAN Summit in 2011. The formal negotiations for RCEP were launched at an ASEAN Summit in 2012.
6Among the 16 RCEP members, only Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Vietnam are parties to UPOV 1991. China and New Zealand are members of the UPOV but have not signed the 1991 version.

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