New Delhi: Two umbrella farmer organisations have advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi to steer clear of entering into a trade deal with the United States of America that could potentially have an impact on farmers in India.
While the Indian Coordination Committee for Farmers’ Movements (ICCFM) has written to Modi with its concerns, the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh (RKM) has threatened a stir on February 17.
It is expected that during President Donald Trump’s two day visit to India, the two countries could try and negotiate several trade deals. What has got the farmer organisations concerned is that the US may demand greater access to Indian dairy and farm markets. The exact contours of the negotiations are not yet known but the US is likely to seek import duty cuts on apple, walnuts, cotton and almonds.
“The much-publicised visit of President Trump this month would be the precursor to an FTA, which is a concern for Indian agriculture as well as the environment due to the entry of transgenic agri-produce,” Yudhvir Singh, ICCFM’s national convener, said.
The RKM has argued that Indian farmers are not prepared to compete with their US counterparts as the US spends several times more on agriculture subsidy than India does.
“There is no denying that US transfers maximum subsidy to its farmers in the whole world and pressurises other developing countries like India to stop giving any form of subsidy to farmers,” said Shiv Kumar Sharma, national convenor of RKM.
The farmer organisations have also highlighted that on several occasions at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) the US has taken stands against the interests of Indian farmers. For instance, in 2018, the US had brought up India’s minimum support price (MSP) regime at the WTO, arguing that Indian agricultural subsidies were ‘vastly in excess’, even when they were not.
In another move which could hurt India, the US recently re-classified India as a ‘developed country’ instead of a ‘developing country’, primarily for trade benefits. This will mean that Indian exporters will no longer have tariff-free access to US markets and certain subsidies could invite stringent penalties.
Trump has hinted at the re-classification at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland this year, claiming, oddly, that the US too is a ‘developing country’.
“I’ve had a dispute running with them for quite a while, because our country hasn’t been treated fairly. China is viewed as a developing nation. India is viewed as a developing nation. We’re not viewed as a developing nation. As far as I’m concerned, we’re a developing nation too. But they got tremendous advantages by the fact that they were considered ‘developing’ and we weren’t. And they shouldn’t be. But if they are, we are. And we’re talking about a whole new structure for the deal, or we’ll have to do something,” he had said.
Farmer organisations have always been sceptical of the US’s stance on trade deals with India and have now said that if the Indian government does indeed go ahead on a free trade agreement with the US, it will be the ‘biggest anti-farmer decision of this government’.
“It is baffling to note that on one side our central government claims to double the income of farmers by 2022, whereas on the other it is ready to sign such a derogatory trade deal whose detrimental impacts would be borne by none but farmer,” Sharma said.