Halt ongoing negotiations, says open letter

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set to hold talks with his counterpart in Brussels on trade and economic issues, a broad civil society alliance on Thursday called on the European Commission and India to immediately halt the ongoing negotiations for an India-EU Free Trade Agreement.

The India-EU summit on Friday is likely to give a political mandate for working towards the conclusion of the FTA in early 2011.

In a signed open letter, more than 240 civil society groups warned that the talks would damage the livelihoods of millions of people in both India and Europe, exacerbating poverty and undermining economic and social development.

The proposed agreement would undermine people's right to food, health and to gender and social development. “The EU persistently puts pressure on India to open up its market to European dairy and meat products, while continuing to export these products at prices far below production costs with the help of subsidies,” said Armin Paasch, trade expert of the German Catholic Bishops' Organisation for Development MISEREOR.

“Around 90 million people are working in the dairy sector in India, most of them small scale farmers or herders and 70 per cent of them women. Their livelihoods would be severely threatened if subsidised EU exports are permitted to flood the Indian market,” he said.

The statement, issued here, said tightened intellectual property rights (IPRs) would limit India's ability to provide affordable medicines for HIV-AIDS, malaria and cancer not only in India but also for patients worldwide.

‘Outrageous'

“It is outrageous for Europe to undermine the Indian drug industry's capacity to provide affordable and safe medicine to the poor. Despite massive protests, the EU continues to insist on data exclusivity and other provisions which would hinder timely production and delivery of generics,” said Rebecca Varghese Buchholz, trade policy advisor at Traidcraft, U.K.

Representatives from Indian and European civil society groups called for transparent negotiations.

Lack of transparency

“The EU-India summit is another example of the lack of transparency and undemocratic nature of the negotiations. Neither civil society groups nor members of the European Parliament are allowed to attend the annual summit of political leaders from either region. At the same time, the 11th EU-India business summit will be held bringing together European and Indian high level business and political representatives to network and shape a joint agenda,” the statement said.

Ska Keller, member of the European Parliament said the broad resistance to the FTA shows that people on both sides were no longer willing to leave the decision-making on their future in the hands of the business and political elite.

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