Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has called for an open discussion on the impact of India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement.

Inaugurating the national conference of the Indian Rubber Dealers’ Federation (IRDF) here on Saturday, the Minister said free trade agreements always impacted the local economy in one way or other. Countries entered into agreements after ensuring the protection of those who will be affected by such agreements.

In the case of the FTA with ASEAN, one has to go by past experiences, he pointed out. India’s trade with ASEAN nations had shown a spurt during the past few years. However, this growth was grossly imbalanced against Indian interests, he said. Already India had a negative balance of payment. In fact, the nation’s negative balance of payment with ASEAN countries constituted 15 per cent of its gross trade deficit, he pointed out.

This growth had taken place under the current rates of import duty. One has to taken into account what would happen when import duty was drastically cut, and ultimately done away with, Mr. Balakrishnan said.

The worst hit would be agriculture sector and it would need active intervention by the government. The need of the hour was for the Central government to give shape to mechanisms which would take care of the interests of those who would be adversely affected by the Agreement, he said.

Delivering his keynote address, the Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy said India’s economic growth would be negatively affected if the opportunities offered by the massive ASEAN market were overlooked.

Every Trade Agreement had both positive and negative fall outs. The important thing was to take up the challenge of establishing linkages with that market while protecting the interests of those sections of Indian society who would be adversely affected, he said.

We should not forget that the current agreement would be topped up with additional protocols which would bring in service and investment sectors under the Agreement. The top beneficiary among the service sector agreement would be those from Kerala, he said.

According to him the High Level committee headed by the prime minister, formed to look into the impact of the Agreement on various sectors, would shortly come up with counter measures. Special focus would be given to pepper, tea and coffee and plantation sector in general, he said.

Mr. Chandy said natural rubber did not face any immediate challenge from the Agreement on account of the special protection accorded on it. However, coconut farmers needed protection and the Central government has already taken steps for the purpose, he added.

According to Mr. Chandy, the challenges could be overcome if the Central, State governments joined hands.

Jose K. Mani MP, Sajan Peter, chairman, Rubber Board, and others spoke on the occasion. George Valy, president IRDF welcomed the gathering.

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