Indian farmers will oppose the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between India and Australia if it throws open the country’s dairy sector for Australian dairy majors, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) has said. India and Australia have been in discussion since October for concluding a “full” CECA by the end of 2022, but both sides have fast-tracked the process to secure an interim agreement before that.
“We have consistently opposed the government’s plans to open the dairy sector for foreign dairy majors. It was this reason that prompted us to oppose the RCEP [Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership] deal which also wanted to allow dairy imports into India. Indian farmers are fast losing land and many small farmers are dependent on dairy work and opening the sector to foreign countries like Australia will hurt millions of farmers and dairy workers,” said Yudhvir Singh, BKU General Secretary.
Mr. Singh alleged that having tried unsuccessfully to open the dairy sector for the 15-country bloc of RCEP in the Asia-Pacific region, the government is trying to open the dairy sector for RCEP members like Australia through bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).
“They are trying to implement the same formula through the backdoor and we will strongly oppose any move to open our dairy sector for foreign players,” said Mr. Singh.
The government is working on clinching several FTAs in the coming months. According to industry sources, the FTA with the European Union is expected to take some time as some issues are yet to be resolved. But negotiations on FTAs with the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom are expected to be concluded earlier. Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal and his Australian counterpart Dan Tehan held talks on December 21 to expedite the conclusion of an “interim agreement” before the final CECA.
It is understood that coal and dairy will form important components of the India-Australia trade deal. Industry sources said Australia will make an attractive offer as a quid pro quo if India opens up the dairy sector.
A spokesperson of the Australian High Commission said Canberra was “seeking a liberalising agreement” for “balanced outcomes,” adding, “Since Australia and India formally launched the resumption of negotiations on 1 October, both sides have engaged on the full range of CECA issues with the aim of concluding an early interim agreement and a full CECA by end-2022.”
India and Australia have been maintaining that both sides are “committed to deepening” the economic relationship under the bilateral Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP). Earlier, the interim agreement was expected to be sealed by this December, however, industry sources said the interim agreement is likely to be sealed in February 2022.