Farmers’ groups ask Centre to protect interests of Indian farmers, fisherfolk at WTO

Concerns are mainly on subsidies in fisheries sector, food security ad e-commerce

Updated - February 25, 2024 01:18 am IST

Published - February 25, 2024 12:28 am IST - NEW DELHI

Ahead of a crucial WTO meet, SKM and SKM (Non Political) have demanded the Centre to not take any decision that could harm the food security and interests of farmers. File

Ahead of a crucial WTO meet, SKM and SKM (Non Political) have demanded the Centre to not take any decision that could harm the food security and interests of farmers. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Concerns of farmers, small retailers and fisherfolk against the agendas placed before the World Trade Organisation’s 13th ministerial conference, scheduled to begin in Abu Dhabi on Monday, are bridging the gaps between both the factions of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) as both outfits have demanded the Centre to abstain from taking any decision that could harm the food security and interests of farmers.

While the original SKM is holding a nationwide tractor rally demanding that India should quit the WTO, the splinter group — SKM (Non Political) — has decided to send a three-member delegation to Abu Dhabi to raise their concerns and for attending parallel sessions against the WTO meeting.

Poring over draft texts

The main concerns of farmers are on the draft texts on additional provisions on fisheries subsidies, work programme on e-commerce and draft text on agriculture.

SKM leader and a member of the recently formed committee to hold discussions with the splinter group, Hannan Mollah did not rule out the possibility of joint protests on the issue of WTO.

“At present, we are not fighting together on these issues as we have differences and doubts on why the SKM-NP have launched separate protests. The struggles of farmers should be held in a united manner,” Mr. Mollah said adding that discussions in WTO are of utmost concern for the SKM.

“We will hold the tractor rally throughout the country and tell farmers how these policies dictated by the WTO are taking away our subsidies, our ration system and our food security,” Mr. Mollah said.

MSP linked to WTO talks

The SKM is also linking the protests for Minimum Support Price (MSP) with the WTO discussions. “The roots of the Centre’s moves to stop MSP lies in WTO. That is why we demand that India should come out of WTO,” said SKM leader and coordinator of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) Pavel Kussa.

“We have been demanding for a law on MSP, government procurement and government presence in the marketing of crops. But it is clear from the WTO drafts that they want the member countries to stop subsidies for farmers and end procurement for the public distribution system,” Mr. Kussa said.

Mr. Kussa said earlier only a few sections of farmers’ organisations had urged the country to exit WTO. “Now, this demand has wider acceptance. It has taken the next step and will sharpen the anti-imperial edge of the protests of Indian farmers,” he said.

Farmers have understood that the MSP and the marketing system are linked to policies prescribed by the WTO followed by the Centre, and the farmers are fighting for establishing self-dependent alternative policies, he added.

The SKM-NP’s three-member delegation will reach Abu Dhabi to participate in the parallel discussions, protests and to put pressure on ministers to take decisions favourable to farmers, small traders and fisherfolk.

Opposing corporatisation

“We oppose the corporatisation of agriculture value chains — from seed to retail trade. We will stand for protecting the right of fisherfolk. The discussions on proposed plans on extending e-commerce are also harmful as multinationals are likely to be the only beneficiaries of these steps in retail sector. We will urge Indian authorities to withdraw from the WTO if the decisions are not favourable to farmers and fisherfolk,” said SKM-NP’s leader K.V. Biju.

Apart from Mr. Biju, Kurubur Shanthakumar and K. Narasimha Naidu have left for Abu Dhabi to participate in the protests there. Mr. Biju added that the possible decisions on e-commerce in the meeting will have implications for agricultural policy and practices in India.

He said a few multinational companies (MNCs) will have the control over digital technology on farm inputs, production and sale, research and extension services in agriculture if India signs these draft statements.

The National Fishworkers Forum, meanwhile, sent a letter to Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal urging him that it is essential to articulate a robust case for small-scale and indigenous, artisanal Indian fishers and their specific needs in international negotiations.

“Without a cohesive national policy to define small-scale, artisanal and indigenous fish worker rights, their unique characteristics and fishing methods, India’s position at the WTO may lack the necessary foundation for effective representation,” the forum said in the letter.

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