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Campaigners Slam EU-India FTA Talks

Ongoing free trade agreement talks between the EU and India have been “hijacked” by big business with potentially dire consequences for small farmers, fisherman, shop owners, and unions, two civil society campaign groups allege in a new report.

In the joint report, entitled “Trade Invaders: How Big Business is Driving the EU-India Free Trade Negotiations,” Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and India FDI Watch criticise the negotiating process for a lack of transparency and inclusiveness. They forecast that the treaty as it currently stands would have harmful economic and humanitarian impacts in both the EU and India.

The report alleges that since the talks’ launch in 2007, the EU and Indian negotiation teams have actively sought input from business leaders, but denied access and information to the public, journalists, civil society groups, and even in some cases to their own parliaments.

EU officials rejected the allegations, particularly the notion that business had shaped its negotiating agenda. Indian government officials could not be reached for comment.

The Corporate Europe Observatory and India FDI Watch have called for halting the talks until “all existing negotiating positions… and government commissioned studies are made public [and] impact assessments and consultations with the most affected groups in Europe and India have taken place.” They want both sides to stop allowing business to create their policy positions. Sustainable development, rather than profit, should form the core objective of the trade policy agenda, they argue.

According to the report, big business in both India and the EU has spent large amounts of time and money lobbying to turn their agendas into their governments’ official positions. It highlights the lack of access granted to Civil Society, NGOs and smaller local interests in “the two largest self-proclaimed democracies of the world.” The EU commission official rejected these claims, providing multiple examples of dialogues and workshops specifically aimed at including these groups in the negotiations.

Corporate Europe Observatory and India FDI Watch warn that opening India’s markets to large European supermarket companies and multi-brand retailers - foreign investment in India’s retail sector is currently heavily regulated - would destroy the livelihoods of millions of small traders, fishermen, and street sellers who would be unable to compete with companies such as Metro, Tesco, and Carrefour.

The groups argue that heavy EU subsidies to its farm and especially dairy sectors mean that free trade would wipe out producers in India, who are currently protected by high tariffs.

Other issues they highlight include intellectual property rights and access to medicine, where they warn that the demands of EU business for stronger IPR enforcement would threaten access to generic drugs for poor people in India and abroad. In addition, they warned that the agreement would have negative environmental impacts, such as reducing the variety of agricultural production.

EU trade spokesman John Clancy told Bridges that business groups do not have privileged access to the European Commission enabling them to shape the EU’s negotiating position in the FTA talks with India. He said that when developing its strategy for the prospective accord, the European Commission consulted with a wide range of stakeholders and institutions, including NGOs, trade unions, and wider civil society, meeting with groups including Oxfam, Traidcraft, and MSF.

On the report’s accusations that the prospective FTA would hurt Indian farmers and traders, he said that studies conducted for the Commission had concluded that am ambitious agreement would benefit both sides, adding that Brussels was “tak[ing] into account sensitivities related to rural farmers and small business in India.”

A publicly available sustainability impact assessment of the FTA conducted by the EU concluded that free trade might hurt Indian labour in the immediate short run, but that there would be medium and long-term gains there in terms of job creation. It also determines that environmental strains resulting from the agreement could be mitigated by existing policies as well as access to green technology through the FTA.

The European Commission denied the report’s suggestion that it has been seeking to extend drug patents from 20 to 25 years, but confirmed that the opening of India’s multi-brand retail sector is being discussed in the negotiations.

While most of the Corporate Europe Observatory-India FDI Watch report focuses on the potential FTA’s harmful effects in India, it also highlights complaints from EU unions over India’s demands for temporary labour movement, fearing that this would increase the already heavy pressure to lower working standards so as to better compete with the developing world.

Speaking to this, the European Commission said that the EU has not yet made an offer to India on temporary labour movement, but that the issue was “potentially of great interest to both sides.”

The report also claims that Indian negotiators, pushed by business, have refused to include any language on sustainable development concerns such as working conditions and environmental protection. Labour and environmental provisions have become common practice in FTAs between developed and developing countries.

The Indian mission to the EU in Brussels did not return comments in time for this report.

The EU and India have expressed interest in completing the FTA by 2011.

ICTSD reporting.

Source: http://ictsd.org/i/news/bridgesweekly/84466/