Kerala Congress (M) leader K.M. Mani has asked the State government to desist from the path of confrontation with the Central government on the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement. He urged it to join hands with the Centre and take steps to safeguard the farming community in Kerala from the adverse fallouts of a trade agreement which was largely beneficial to the nation.

Presenting his paper on ‘ASEAN Agreement: Advantages, Repercussions and Remedies,’ at a specially convened farmers’ conference here on Tuesday, Mr. Mani said he would give 75 marks for the Agreement in its present format. “But to make it 100 per cent, we would have to ensure the protection of the farming community in Kerala,” he said.

Mr. Mani expressed confidence that this could be accomplished by making use of the Safeguard Measures under Article 10 of the Agreement during the five-year Transition Period. “In this regard, it was imperative that the State government shed its negative attitude and take a constructive approach.”

He called for a two-pronged strategy to minimise the adverse effects of the FTA on the agriculture sector. According to him, on the one hand the severity of the impact could be minimised by exploiting the various safeguard measures embedded in the Agreement, while on the other the government should roll out an extensive programme to empower those sectors of the economy which would be adversely affected. “In both these cases, the strong intervention of the Central government was necessary,” he pointed out.

According to Mr. Mani, if the prices of coconut, tea, coffee and pepper were

affected on account of the FTA, the government should take steps to activate the Safeguard Measures. As part of this, the import duties of the products should be increased and their import controlled.

He urged the Centre to take steps to ensure remunerative prices for coconut, coffee, tea and pepper, which had been included in the Special Products list.

He also called for taking up long-term projects to increase productivity of cash crops and to strengthen the agriculture economy.

The Kerala Congress leader called for a debate on the FTA so that a balanced view could be arrived at. Party chairman C.F. Thomas, Jose K.

Mani, MP, MLAs and party leaders participated in the seminar.

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