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Trade Invaders - India EU FTA

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Read the article below or on Countercurrents.org

At a time when the entire nation’s attention is focused on different scams that’s hogging the media headlines, little attention is being paid to the new trade deal negotiated between India and the European Union (EU).

The trade negotiation that is scheduled to complete this year, have far reaching consequence on millions of Indians, has triggered mass protests in India. Thousands of small retailers and street vendors are staging protests in cities across the country.

This is because a India based organization, India FDI Watch and Belgium based Corporate Europe Observatory; has published a joint report “Trade Invaders – How big business is driving the EU-India free trade negotiations,” highlights some glaring injustices that’s featuring this trade negotiations.

This report reveals that the European supermarket giants are demanding access to the Indian retail market, threatening the livelihoods of street vendors and small retailers.

Giant retailers like Carrefour, Metro, Tesco and Bharti are pushing to open India up for foreign investment in multi-brand retail, which is currently banned.

The report reveals the ‘sinister synergy’ between the EU corporates and their Indian counterparts. The European Commission and the Indian government have handed the negotiation agenda over to corporate lobby groups, to push the agenda of big-business-first, ignoring the needs of their citizens.

“While the European Business Group in India and the EU Commission sponsored European Business and Technology Centre have acted as brokers for corporate interests and as information hubs for EU negotiators, the Ministry of Commerce of Government of India and Indian Prime Minister’s Office often receive advices from bodies representing India’s biggest companies,” says the report.

The Euro Commerce, the lobby group of European retailers is convinced that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India will further open up the Indian retail market as distribution services is high on the agenda of the negotiation teams.

The Euro Commerce, for its part, has “confirmed that the distribution sector is one of the priority areas in the ongoing FTA negotiations” and has already communicated its interests to India, despite the EU’s awareness of the sensitivities of the Indian retail sector.”

The big business lobby groups like Business Europe that’s behind the EU's negotiations is driving hard to slash India's trade taxes, endangering the future of millions of small-scale farmers, fisher folk and small enterprises.

Such free trade negotiations may push street traders and small farmers into poverty and hunger and damage the lives and livelihoods of millions of poor Indians. It's high time to end undemocratic liaison with corporate lobbyists.

Indian and European business lobbyists are also insisting that no environmental or social standards should form part of the deal. The trade negotiations also aim at deregulating the European labor market, which might worsen the conditions of migrant workers and increase the downward pressure on labor standards in Europe.

The corporate campaign against labor and environmental standards shows that people and the environment in Europe and India will pay a high price for industry's excessive influence over the trade negotiations.

Further, global drug companies are lobbying to push India out of the Pharmaceutical market and get a clause into the India - Europe Free Trade Agreement that would stop our companies producing cheap medicines. Indian pharmaceutical industry is one of the world’s largest and most developed industries.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), is pushing for tougher enforcement of intellectual property rights, threatening India’s generic drug industry which supplies low-cost medication to much of the developing world.

Three countries - France, the UK and Germany, pushed by their pharmacy lobbyists are negotiating hard to crush India's medicines industry. We need to stand up to this bullying as India Pharmaceutical Industries poised for a quantum growth.

India has nurtured a large generic industry which now exports medicines worth Rs 50,000 crore per year. It is the only affordable source of treatment for malaria, AIDS and other diseases across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The country, today, exports to more than 200 countries around the globe including the highly regulated markets of US, Europe, Japan and Australia. India exported drugs worth around $8 billion in 2008-09, most of which to the US and Europe, followed by Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa.

The Indian pharmaceutical industry is now Rs one lakh crore industry and has shown tremendous progress in terms of infrastructure development, technology, human resource with a wide range of products. It has established its presence and has shown determination to flourish in a changing environment.

The country now ranks third worldwide in volume and 14th in terms of value. The industry now produces bulk drugs belonging to all major therapeutic groups requiring complicated manufacturing technologies.

The economic and social returns of investments made towards this are significant. It creates more than 500,000 high value jobs for its youth and provide the country with low cost healthcare for chronic and life threatening ailments like malaria and tuberculosis.

If our government signs the free trade agreement with the European Union in its current form, country’s pharmaceutical industry will surely collapse. Thousands of people will lose their jobs and we will lose vital export earnings, while millions across the world will be left with no access to cheap medicines.

Campaigners in Europe and India are demanding a halt to the negotiations until all negotiating documents are made available, consultations with the most affected groups in India and Europe have taken place and negotiators have put an end to the practice of joint policy-making with big business.

We cannot let our government cave to pressure for such unjust trade practices. If we build a national outcry then only we could save our industry. Let's do anything to defend Indian companies and our proud pharmacy service to the worlds poorest.

As Indians we need to show our resolve and pressurize our government to say no to European Union proposals on trade practices that may undermine our economy, our rights, and trade interests.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

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