Prime Minister’s case seems weak and taken in haste!
Kerala Chief Minister raises objection for the right reasons!
Yes, trade talks are critical for any country, more so for India. Asean is India’s fourth-largest trading partner after the EU, US and China. Indo-Asean trade is growing at 27 % and stands at 38.37 billion in 2007-08.
Yet, the Indian government’s move and the haste doesn’t justify the move.
WTO talks is yet to be concluded and it is not easy for a country of India’s size and diversity and the critical state of our large agricultural economy to get any significant concessions or concede concessions on agriculture.
Therefore, the haste with which the PM seems to have got the Cabinet sanction for FTA with Asean has rightly raised stiff resistance within the Cabinet itself.
It is good to know that Cabinet ministers like A.K.Antony, Vayalar Ravi and Veerappa Moily and others have objected to the FTA.
Most of the MPs from Kerala, both the Congress and the Left have raised objections. So too, one imagines MPs from Southern and other states where there is a great deal of fishing industry and also plantation crops.
Now, the PM, in our opinion, should have initiated an in-depth study and reached a consensus before pushing through such a sensitive and critical document.
The commerce minister is new to the job nor the PM is really acquainted with the issues of the sector which comprises a range of plantation crops plus fisheries and they have been India’s traditional strengths in the agri exports sector.
One can’t just come in and upset the long historically critical sector to appease some foreign policy objective.
Manmohan Sigh government in its second term doesn’t seem to have gone well so far. Within a few months, it has encountered many dissident voices, resistence and the much-desired democratic exchange of differing opinions on matters of state.
In the international arena, India was not well-taken, there was some sort of downgraded tones, the G- 8 saw India not taken into consideration when the summit openly came out against India receiving its nuclear fuel supplies, on-proliferation and also in the climate change debate India didn’t have any clearly thought-out position. Next came the big bow to its prestige when at the NAM summit India nowhere was to be seen, only the NAM countries’ dictators faces were displayed, Cuba, Egypt and Libya are not the faces that the world like to see and cheer about!
What an irony! India just walked into the trap, yes, it was a sort of trap India walked into and we were nowhere to be seen at this prestigious summit.
One wonders whether the UPA government-II is really making any impact on the international scene and the international debates that are going on.
The Indo-Pak dialogue proved to be a near disaster, as far as the Singh visage of a wise statesman! He entered into an agreement that had some disssonance, words like Baluchistan and linkage or delinkage of the terror talks and composite dialogue all got mixed up and the result was the backlash, back at home!
Now, comes the not so good news to the Prime Minister’s wisdom that at the Cabinet meeting the Free Trade Agreement with the Asean countries was met with opposition within the Cabinet.
Nothing wrong or great, of course. This is however the first time we see some ministers seem to be asserting themselves, notably Mr.A.K.Antony, the defence minister and also from Kerala. Antony is a no-nonsense man sometimes. He has his own well-stated positions on some important issues.
This time, he knows well the sensitive nature of the agreement that opens up a Pandora’s Box as far as the Kerala’s thousands and even lakhs of small farmers and also the millions of labour, the plantation sector on which the entire Kerala economy revolves.Though finally, it was reported the Prime Minister himself pushed the FTA and secured the Cabinet’s approval, it is not as if this is the last thing we are going to hear.
Kerala chief minister V.S.Achudanandan has dashed off a letter to the PM. The CM has explained how the agreement was signed at a time when the market was affected by the coconut oil and pepper dipping by the liberal imports. Now, the FTA would lead to liberal import of natural rubber, India is the third largest consumer of natural rubber. Now tea, pepper and edible oils would be liberally imported and the consequences for the Indian sectors, all are very sensitive issues and the Prime Minister of India could not have visualised. The PM is both out of touch with the ground level realities and he is not a grassroots leader either!
The FTA provides a regulated reduction in the duty of items imported from the Asean countries. The liberalisation of fish import would directly hit Kerala and Karnataka fish sectors. Even the Tamil Nadu and other coastal states would be hard hit. V.S.Achudanandan has pointed out that about 10 lakh people, largely landless labour would be rendered jobless.
And at this time when there is a deep recession in the world, world markets are volatile and when Indian agriculture sector itself is undergoing a severe drought owing to poor monsoons, surely this is not the opportune time to introduce India into the FTA. Surely, the Congress party has to worry about the political implications of this move by the PM at a surely wrong time.
The party had won a huge victory in the 2009 elections from Kerala, there are very many Kerala ministers at the Cabinet and also in other administrative positions. This move if pushed further, would make these ministers to face a great resistance and render them unpopular after securing such a huge majority of MPs,13 MPs out of the 20 MPs are from the Congress. Every MP from the state who is someone has raised his voices over the FTA move.
China has been cited by the PM as the reason to go for the FTA. But then China is already is active on so many fronts. Just by signing the FTA, is there any guarantee India would really rise up to the Chinese challenges on many fronts?
There is no such guarantee.
India seems to be acting on a weak-kneed posture on many sensitive issues lately. Even in the arms buying spree there are many anxious questions that need to be answered. India must look like an active nation and must be conducting its diplomacy and its foreign policy initiatives on a wider and well-defined vision and must be appealing to a wider world, not just regional powers like China alone.
India needs friends with Japan, Russia and even countries in Africa and elsewhere where China seems to be only too active.
By simply being active no country or country doesn’t earn any praise or approval in the international fora. It is by a sense of genuine concern for the wider issues that affect the largest number of people and countries only India can hope to match the perceived Chinese threat or rivalry. Certainly, all these thought also weigh on the minds of Indian people when the issue of FTA comes in. The small farmers, the more fragile system based plantation crops economy of India is our traditional strength.
So, there is room for a reconsideration on the issues before we can compromise with the security and livelihoods of the vast millions of people who are dependent upon this very sensitive sector of Indian agriculture.