Friday, August 24, 2007

India-EU Free Trade

“The Indian Parliament and us are sold out”,
says Bihar’s Agriculture Minister

Ministers outburst at European Union-India Free Trade Workshop

By Manuwant Choudhary

Patna: “Slaves we will become anyhow..what we are doing here is conducting a post-mortem of our very own dead body…this country is doing that job..these people you see here sitting on the dias..are doing that job…those people sitting there in the `Gumbaj’ (round) building..those sold out people…people like me who are sold out…we have come here to sign the missive of death….”, said Bihar’s Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh.
Ironically, his outburst was against the Free Trade Agreement between India and European Union but what shocked everyone was how the minister attacked the very forum that invited him.
The workshop was not to debate Free Trade per se but essentially to discuss and get a feed back from exporters, businessmen and farmers about how India must conduct itself when the Free Trade regime happens.
In a Free Trade regime its been decided to free 90 per cent of the 5,700 items from customs duty. Essentially, free trade means no custom duty at all on any product from either country but here the agreement is to free 90 per cent of the items while 10 per cent will be kept under what is called `Most Sensitive List’. This list the Indian government explains has been kept in order to protect our own sensitive sectors where our production level is high and will suffer if there is an duty-free import.
But it was strange to see that this regional meet for West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand was being organized in Bihar where there are very few exporters if any. And so apart from the speech of the minister there was virtually no feedback from the public, except two persons:
….one said how if milk and milk products are kept under the sensitive list as planned by the government of India then what will happen to the milk sugar that’s used as a base for Homoeopathy medicines which are consumed mostly by the poor. A 25 kilo bag of milk sugar that cost Rs.750 some time back costs Rs.8,500 now and only because the three Indian factories making them have shut down long before the Free Trade Agreement for other reasons. A custom duty on milk sugar would make this even more expensive.
And the second spoke of maize, “If maize seeds are put under `sensitive’ list it will mean a custom duty on high yielding maize seeds although Indian farmers need those seeds as there is a maize shortfall in the country.”

Having got few fedbacks the minister did some face-saving and said that the Indian government must have got feedback from traders in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh so Bihar's opinion on such matters will be the same as Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, "After all we are Indians."
Having attended this meet one wondered how these bureaucrats and politicians were in charge of deciding customs duty on a 100 per cent products for the past 60 years and now I fully comprehend how and why India did go bankrupt.
I cannot say of other items but if any then Bihar’s Agriculture Minister deserves to be on the `Most Sensitive List’.

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