Wednesday, September 25, 2019

South Indian farmers to intensify the struggle against free trade

22nd September, Ernakulam: Member organizations and allies group associated under the banner of South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (SICCFM) met at Ernakulam, Kerala to brainstorm and strategize collective action to address deepening agrarian crisis and evaluate the current policies adopted by the Indian government with respect to the free trade issues. The meeting was hosted by the Kerala Coconut Farmers' Association.

The two days round table meeting was attended by men, women, and youth representatives of farmers, indigenous and landless Dalit groups from the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Kerala. Researchers, academics and trade unionists who are also allies of the farmers' movements also took part in the two-day event.

It was evident from the meeting that all the south Indian states are undergoing similar struggles, the rise in farmers suicides, increasing costs of agricultural inputs, land grabbing by the Government and companies in the name of development, loss of traditional crop varieties, corporate take over of food and milk and effects of climate change in the form of prolonged drought and erratic rainfall patterns which caused devastating floods in Kerala and Karnataka in recent years.

During the two day meeting, a lot of emphasis was placed on understanding the impact of global free trade agreements on Indian agriculture and the participants scrutinized several ongoing negotiations and developments taking place inside and outside the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in this regard. In particular, the movement representatives analyzed the ongoing negotiations around RCEP, the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement, comprising India and 15 other nations.

Discussing on the trade-related issues, representatives raised concerns against the unjust trade regimes dominated by a few big countries like the US, Australia and the EU.

"Indian government cannot trade away the lives of our farmers through getting into free trade agreements. For Indian farmers, agriculture is not just their profession. It is their culture, their life. Free trade has caused many market failures and has taken away the lives of many thousand farmers since the time India adopted the neoliberal trade reforms.", said Ravindranath of the Kerala Coconut Farmers' Association, while introducing the issue in the plenary.

The movements also took a decision to unanimously reject the RCEP free trade agreement.

"India is the world’s biggest milk producer and it's dairy sector provides critical revenue to farmers especially during poor crop years. Indian farmers earn more money from the sale of milk than from wheat and rice combined. About 80 million Indian rural households are engaged in milk production which provides a livelihood to poor and small farmers", reminded Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union.

"Our farmers have already faced the negative effects under WTO and if India signs the RCEP pact, our farmers livelihoods will be under grave threat, said Sellamuthu of TVS, while raising concerns about the lack of transparency and consultation with farmers' movements in the country when a trade agreement of such a massive scale is being negotiated.

Chukki Nanjundaswamy expressed concerns saying, ‘apart from the dairy sector, RCEP poses threat to dilute our national legislations related to seeds and land acquisition, the RCEP will give an upper hand to seed corporations to steal our seeds and grab our natural resources. The most important point here is that the government has not consulted farmers while making decisions regarding agriculture in RCEP. We need support for agroecology at the policy level and we don’t need these mega FTAs in agriculture, we will intensify our fight against RCEP in the coming days.

Farmers in India have already borne the brunt of existing FTAs such as the ASEAN-India FTA and India Sri-Lanka FTA. Cheap imports of palm oil, pepper and tea have devastated the lives of peasants across South India. The RCEP will further aggravate this crisis. We reject the RCEP outright,” said Badagalapura Nagendra, President KRRS (Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha)

Kavita Kuruganti of ASHA said, RCEP is a large, looming, dangerously-real threat hanging on Indian farmers' lives. It is close to being signed and we need to stop it and save our Indian agriculture.

"RCEP will be detrimental to the plantation and fisheries sectors of Kerala, the state government of Kerala has already written to the central government opposing RCEP and asking the government to consult the state government before it inks final pact.", reminded Ravindranath

Referring to the proposed amendments to the Seed Bill, Rakesh Tikait, national spokesperson of BKU, expressed his concerns that it will give more powers to the multinationals to introduce GM and patent our farmers' seeds.  At a time when farmers in India are on the verge of destruction due to the failure of this government, by bringing a Bill that is against the farmers, the government is forcing us to commit suicide.

Referring to the unjust clauses under WTO, Kannaiyan Subramaniam said that ‘Rich countries wrote the Agreement on Agriculture in the WTO to favor themselves. Agribusiness corporations in rich countries receive huge subsidies that distort international prices. They want to dump their agriculture products in our countries and want us, farmers, to go out of business and depend on them for food. We have been fighting against WTO and now we will also intensify our fight against RCEP and we demand that Agriculture must be taken out of the WTO and RCEP.

Dairy provides subsistence income to many rural households especially the marginal farmers, opening domestic markets to dairy will wipe out small scale livestock keepers, especially women, said Murugamma of Food Sovereignty Alliance.

In the matter of Fair and Remunerative price for the resource-poor Indian sugarcane farmers, the Government of India has been sued by Guatemala, Brazil, and Australia in the Dispute settlement mechanism in the World Trade Organisation(WTO) and the investigation is pending in WTO. If Government of India allows cheaper sugar Imports, it will wipe out Indian sugar cane farmers from farming. RCEP will further cause damages to the sugarcane farmers and domestic sugar industries.

KV Rajkumar of South Indian Sugar cane farmers association said that, India has over 50 million sugar cane farmers and 2 million mill workers. Sugar mills owe more than 24000 crores to farmers who have supplied sugar cane. Sugar factories in Tamil Nadu have the dues to the tune of 1854 crores.

Selvaraj and Sobha, representatives of Adivasi groups from Neelagiris opposed the attack on the Rights of Tribals and Forest Dwellers and demanded that all the indigenous people and forest dwellers who are the original owners and depend on the forests and hilly areas for their life culture and livelihood should be protected and no eviction should take place under any guise, including the rejection of claims under the Forest Rights Act.

The representatives present in the meeting also made a decision to intensify the struggle against the RCEP through coordinated national action and protest against the RCEP and FTAs, a delegation of farmers will also try to meet the Prime Minister and Commerce Minister. Also, the farmers' groups planned to seek the interventions of the respective state governments to send a letter opposing the RCEP.

Monday, September 16, 2019

“No one has consulted us on RCEP”, say farmers movements and trade unions in India

“A number of farmer organisations, trade unions, livestock and fisheries groups and civil society bodies have written an open letter to Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal stating that most of them had not been consulted on the on-going negotiations for the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact and expressed concerns that their concerns may not have been taken on board.

The representatives of various organisations and individuals from across the country, who signed the letter, demanded that the on-going negotiations be put on hold till consultations are conducted with those left out including small farmers, fishing communities, dairy keepers, fruit and vegetable growers, tribal populations, trade unions and other marginalised sections of society.

They also asked for the key representations made in the consultations that the government has had with industry be made public.

The RCEP is a mega trade agreement being negotiated between 16 countries including the 10-member ASEAN, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Once implemented it would lead to zero-duty imports on most products between the participating countries.

Referring to media reports on the Department of Commerce’s assertion that it held over 100 consultations across the country over the last six years to gather reactions to the proposed RCEP, the letter said that it was misleading on two accounts.

“On one hand, internal briefings and inter-ministerial consultations form a significant part of these so called stakeholder consultations, and on the other hand, the only stakeholder that has been consulted is the industry,” it said.

The complainants further said that despite there being evidence to show that the lives of people at large can end up getting traded away through free trade pacts such as the RCEP, their participation during the negotiation process has not been elicited.

While the Indian industry is most apprehensive about increased competition from China once import duties are eliminated or reduced, Indian farmers and dairy producers are additionally concerned about cheap imports from New Zealand and Australia that they fear could destroy their livelihoods.”

The Hindu Business newsline has reported on 15 September. Read the full report here.

Download the full text of the letter here

Cover Image by: Joe Athialy

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

La Via Campesina issues call to mobilise against WTO and Free Trade Agreements

La Via Campesina issues call to mobilise against WTO and Free Trade Agreements

02 September, Harare:

Two decades after coming into being, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – one of the flag bearers of globalisation and neo-liberalism – is facing an existential crisis that is precipitated by the same group of people who created it. This is also happening at a time when peasants and indigenous people are several degrees worse off than they were two decades ago; with their land, rivers, oceans and forests having undergone massive erosion and forced evictions are inflicted upon them by profit-hungry corporations. Local peasant markets and food systems in several countries have been decimated by an order of international trade that only looks at the commodification of everything, including the food that people eat.

For an organisation that inscribed among its founding objectives, its aim “to help developing countries benefit fully from the global trading system”, WTO’s greatest indictment has indeed come from the following realities confronting the developing world today; rising rural unemployment, rising hunger, staggering levels of inequality that exists between countries and within countries, and rising per capita world debt.

La Via Campesina has long been warning the world of the risks of deregulation and unbridled expansion of global capital. As people working in the field to feed 70% of the world’s population, we were the first to face the brunt of free trade agreements that were pushed forth by WTO and other multilateral institutions. WTO led the pack in seducing and coercing our governments to sign up to the grand plans of a few rich countries. The devastation caused by this top-down model of global governance was first felt in our territories when it crashed the prices of our produce, destroyed local peasant markets, wiped away the rich biodiversity that existed in our fields, took away our autonomy over seeds and evicted millions of our sisters and brothers from their territories.

It is this destruction of the country side that forced one of our own, Lee Kyung Hae from South Korea, to take his life outside the venue of the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico in 2003. On the 10th of September that year when he committed this tragic act, he had a banner that hung around his neck which read “WTO Kills Farmers”. Once a self-sufficient rice farmer in rural Korea, Lee had lost everything to cheap dumping of imported rice and meat, the result of free trade agreements pushed through WTO. He took such an extreme step because the rich and few who ran these institutions or lobbied around them, were too far away from the lived realities of the countryside. His act of sacrifice brought the depressing account of the rural world right outside their gates, even as in his last moments he bravely echoed the demands of peasants and rural communities worldwide; “to keep agriculture out of WTO’s free trade negotiations”.

Since then, La Via Campesina marks 10th of September every year as the International Day of Struggle against WTO and Free Trade Agreements – to keep the memory of Lee Kyung Hae alive and also to not remain mute to the calamitous consequences of international free trade.

16 years hence that tragic incident, what has changed? Nothing, except that the hands that feed WTO is now refusing to continue. It is ironical when the rich captains of capitalism claim that they got a bad deal from WTO. It begs the question, “then who got the good deal?” .

But let us not be fooled by this charade of false threats made by rich western countries to withdraw from WTO. What we have been seeing over the past one decade is the establishment of several bilateral and regional mega-free trade agreements and creation of newer unified trade blocks.

So while WTO may eventually be weakened or be dead, capitalism wants to continue to thrive through other means. It goes by different names in different continents.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) comprising ASEAN nations, India, Australia and New Zealand is one among this new age trade agreements that wants to create a unified market in the region, being negotiated ‘outside of WTO’. Peasant organisations here have been pointing out how it could severely impact their livelihoods, particularly those of small scale dairy farmers, how it could impose restrictive seeds laws and more. Yet these negotiations continue behind closed doors in the most opaque ways possible led by a few who have never held a plough in their hands!

The EU – MERCOSUR deal between Europe and the economic and political bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, under negotiations for 17 years and finally signed onto by the European Commission in July this year, is another case in point. European Coordination of Via Campesina (ECVC) had warned that the deal with MERCOSUR threatens to undermine standards on health, the environment and animal welfare in the European Union, in addition to lacking any policy coherence with the tall promises made at COP 23. Peasant organisations in the MERCOSUR block calls it a neocolonial model that will result in a capital concentration for the few and poverty for the majority.

In Africa, the creation of African Continental Free Trade Agreement, a mega regional free trade agreement, is ‘premised on the notion that trade liberalisation, through both tariff and non-tariff barrier reduction, will drastically increase intra-continental trade, and that this increased trade will be beneficial for all.’ [CADTM, 2019]. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Farmers organisations in Canada have also called out U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, earlier known as NAFTA) for failing to address the concerns of grain farmers and dairy farmers in the country.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) between Australia,Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru,Singapore, and Vietnam. has sown the fears of corporate capture of seed systems, dilution in the regulation for GMOs and serious worries for small-scale food producers.

Many, if not all, of these trade agreements carry within it the controversial provision of Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS), which in all instances invariably allow private corporations to override sovereign national laws and sue the national governments for threatening their profitability. A system that allows multinational private corporations to take a sovereign nation to trial in front of an opaquely set up international tribunal, for the ‘crime’ of choosing people’s welfare over profit is indeed a dangerous one and must be fiercely opposed.

It is in this vein that La Via Campesina is calling upon its members and allies to not be misled by the smokescreen of a ‘weakening WTO’ and be aware of the new age mega and bilateral free trade agreements are equally if not more harmful.

As we remember Lee Kyung Hae this September, let us also agitate, educate and organise the rural members of our movement and our allies about the lurking dangers of these closed room trade negotiations. It is important that we reject all kinds of free trade agreements and work towards the complete dismantling of WTO as it prepares to meet for the next Ministerial in Kazakhstan.

It is important to inform the people of peasant-led-alternatives that exist, which can feed the people and also save the planet. The UN Declaration on Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), which our movement won through 17 years of hard fought negotiations, are an instrument to protect the rights of our people and our efforts must be to have it implemented in our countries.

It is vital for our movements to promote and strengthen the local peasant markets selling locally produced food using agroecological methods to local customers, and that which represents and respects the diversity of local food systems. We demand for national policies that strengthen these peasant market systems and reject free trade agreements that pose an existential threat to it.

It is important that our movements on the ground also support the Global Campaign for a UN Binding Treaty for Transnational Corporations on Human Rights that aims to end the impunity of transnational corporations and work to strike out the controversial provisions of ISDS from all free trade agreements.

Starting 10 September, we are exhorting the 182 peasant organisations of La Via Campesina in 81 countries, all our allied social movements, academic institutions, political schools of training and NGOs to organise direct actions, public events, study sessions and demonstrations to expose the dangers of these free trade agreements in your own region and countries and also to present an alternative that is rooted in local cultures, context and biodiversity.

Let the rallying call for our global actions once again be
“WTO, FTAs Out of Agriculture and Food!”
“Peasant Trade Systems Over Free Trade”
“Food Sovereignty, not Free Trade!”

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Pakistan: Peasant organisations pledge to push back against Industrial Farming

The Pakistan Kissan Rabta Committee (PKRC) on Sunday vowed to lead the fight against industrial farming practice advocated by multinationals across Pakistan. The members of the committee pledged to aggressively promote and adopt “natural sustainable crop production”.

After a two-day national convention, “Building a Peasant Movement in Pakistan” held in Lahore, the PKRC elected a new Coordination Committee and inducted new member organisations. The two days meeting was chaired by a panel of Nazli Javed, Mian Mohammed Ashraf and Tariq Mahmood.

The meeting was attended by 21 peasant and food producer organisations from across Pakistan, while a number of organisations were unable to attend. The new organising committee of the PKRC will include the Anjuman Mazaareen Punjab (Okara and Lahore), Akhuwat-e-Kissan Pakistan, Anjuman Kashtkaraan (Khyber Pakthunkhwa), Kissan Karkela (KP), Khoj, Crofter Foundation, Pedaver, Sawera Foundation, Hari Poriat Tanzeem (Sindh), Tameer-e-Nau Women’s Workers Organisation, Kissan Akath (Rajanpur), Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement, Agrarian Collective, Dastak, Khushaali, Aisaar, Sanjh, Milli Zameen Zada, Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum and Alfalah Welfare Organisation FATA.

The forum criticised the dominant mode of agriculture that was sold to farmers during the Green Revolution. Speaking at the forum, MiN Asif Sharif of Pedaver and Nusrat Habib of Khoj Foundation agreed that corporate interests had been the main reason for advocating a system of farming that spreads poison and destroys nature. Instead, the PKRC will struggle for creating a natural system of farming, based on rebuilding the natural composition of the soil, which rejects the use of corporate seeds, pesticides and fertilizers.

The PKRC vowed to renew the struggle for land reform, market reform, moving towards natural farming and oppose corporate farming. The meeting also expressed solidarity with the struggle of the Anjuman Mazareen Punjab and called for the release of its leadership, including AMP leader Mehr Abdul Sattar. It called for the recognition of the land rights of the tenants of the Okara Military Farms.

The PKRC also calls on peasants to participate in Climate Strike being organising on September 20 across Pakistan, noting that Pakistan’s farmers have been amongst the most affected by extreme weather patterns, including floods, unpredictable rainfall and changing weather patterns.

Those who spoke on the occasion include Dr Ammar Ali Jan, Hshaim Bin Rashid, Farooq Tariq, Muhsin Abdali and others.

Press coverage of the meeting -