The State government has taken the initiative to create a broad platform of advocacy groups and NGOs to persuade the Central government to ensure adequate safeguards for vulnerable sectors in the country before signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a Free Trade Agreement involving 16 nations in the Asia-Pacific region.
Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunil Kumar said the initiative was aimed at highlighting the threats posed by the trade treaty to the domestic agricultural, industrial, dairy and fisheries sectors and ensuring livelihood security for workers. He feared that the agriculture and dairy sectors in Kerala would be exposed to unhealthy competition from other countries seeking to dump their products in India.
Kerala has already written to the Centre, pointing out that the lowering of trade barriers under the WTO agreements and various FTAs had impoverished farmers and exposed Kerala’s economy to new threats. The trade pacts had unleashed a vicious circle of unrestricted imports, low prices, low productivity, high cost of production, low demand and unremunerative prices.
The Minister said the agricultural sector in India was poised to take a big hit as RCEP would open up trade ties with partner countries. The liberalised import of milk and dairy products from Australia and New Zealand, poultry products from Vietnam, natural rubber, rice, palmoil, tea, coffee, pepper and fish from ASEAN countries and retail products from China are seen as the biggest threats.
Exim trade experts say the tariff concessions under the Indo-Asean FTA and the misuse of the provisions of the Indo-Sri Lankan FTA had led to the large scale import of palmoil, tea, pepper and other species, driving down the demand for domestic produce and affecting the livelihood of farmers.
The State government is raising the pitch for States to be taken into confidence in the tariff negotiations on the RCEP pact. It also stresses the need for an auto trigger mechanism to check import surges.