State needs cushion against FTA impact: Isaac

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Special Correspondent

Says FTA will have devastating impact on farm economy

Claims Centre’s reassurances not enough to dispel fears

Seeks programme to boost farm productivity

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) India had signed with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July will have a devastating impact on Kerala’s agricultural economy and the acute poverty conditions it can bring in its wake will require the reintroduction of universal statutory rationing system in the State, according to Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac.

Inaugurating a seminar to discuss the likely consequences of the FTA pact for Kerala, organised by the Agriculture Department here on Wednesday, Dr. Isaac said mere reassurances from the Union government could not dispel the apprehensions of the people of the State.

The least the Centre could do, now that the pact had been signed, was to bring back universal statutory rationing system in the State so that there would be no famine.

Precautionary steps

Dr. Isaac said that, besides this, two other precautionary measures would have to be taken to protect the peasant population of the State from loss of income when large quantities of the same commodities they produced flowed into the country from the ASEAN countries under the FTA from the beginning of next year.

First, there should be a mechanism to protect the prices of various spices and plantation products of the State—a strong price support policy backed by an efficient procurement programme. Secondly, the Centre should help Kerala launch a massive programme to increase the productivity of its farms, so that, without too great a delay, the State’s farm commodities could compete with those of some of the ASEAN countries on equal terms in the market.

Agriculture Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran, who presided over the inaugural session of the seminar, suggested that the Centre could, before the pact became operational, declare the highest price attained during the last 10 years by each threatened farm commodity of the State as the ‘protected price’ of the commodity. Fisheries Minister S. Sharma, who too addressed the inaugural session, said the State’s fisheries sector too would be adversely affected by the FTA since the ASEAN countries were large producers of the same marine commodities that Kerala produced.

Congress MLA V.D. Satheeshan, while sharing the apprehensions expressed by the Ministers, said the Union government had constituted a committee of Central Ministers to propose appropriate measures to protect the farmers and fishermen of the country from the adverse impact of the FTA.

The former Finance Minister T. Sivadasa Menon also addressed the inaugural function.




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