Friday, 10 December 2010

Civil society and trade unions on EU-India Free Trade Agreement

As the EU-India Summit meets in Brussels today, civil society organisations and trade unions have reiterated their views on a draft free trade agreement. A broad civil society alliance called on the European Commission and the Indian Government to immediately halt the ongoing free trade negotiations between India and the EU. More than 240 concerned civil society groups signed an open letter, in which they warned that the talks would damage the livelihoods of millions of people in both India and Europe, exacerbating poverty and undermining economic and social development.

The proposed agreement would undermine people’s rights to food, to health and to gender just and social development. “The EU persistently puts pressure on India to open up its market to European dairy and meat products, while the EU continues to export these products at prices far below production costs with the help of subsidies”, said Armin Paasch, trade expert of the German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Misereor. “Around 90 million people are working in the dairy sector in India, most of them being small scale farmers or herders and 70 percent being women. Their livelihoods would be severely threatened if subsidized EU exports are permitted to flood the Indian market”, said Paasch.

Tightened intellectual property rights (IPR) would limit India’s ability to provide affordable medicines for the treatment of HIV-AIDS, malaria and cancer, not only for Indian patients but worldwide. “It is outrageous for Europe to undermine the Indian drug industry’s capacity to provide affordable and safe medicine to the poor. Despite massive protests the EU continues to insist on data exclusivity and other provisions, which would hinder timely production and delivery of generics”, said Rebecca Varghese Buchholz, trade policy advisor at Traidcraft, UK. “This example illustrates the corporate capture of the negotiation agenda: public health objectives are pushed aside in the interest of pharmacy industry profits.”

Representatives from Indian and European civil society groups claim that the behind-closed-door negotiations must be made more transparent – and be accountable to wider interests in society. “The EU-India summit is another example of the lack of transparency and undemocratic nature of the negotiations. Neither civil society groups nor Members of the European Parliament are allowed to attend the annual summit of political leaders from either region. At the same time, the 11th EU-India business summit will be held bringing together the European and Indian high level business and political representatives to network and shape a joint agenda,” explained Ska Keller, Member of the European Parliament. “This is unacceptable; the broad resistance against the FTA shows that people on both sides are no longer willing to leave the decision-making on their future in the hands of the business and political elite.”

The EU-India summit coincides with the official international human rights day. As civil society, “we believe that December 10 presents a timely opportunity to halt free trade talks until coherence of all provisions with human and women rights obligations can be guaranteed”, urged Barbara Specht, advocacy officer of the gender network WIDE. “Instead of profit interests the negotiations should be guided by gender and social justice and sustainable development objectives.”

“As we have said since talks started in 2007, any agreement must contain a comprehensive and effective chapter on sustainable development entailing the commitment of both parties to the attainment of decent work, including respect for fundamental workers’ rights,” insisted ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “A social chapter is essential so that an agreement could lead to growth, development and the creation of decent and productive employment,” stated ETUC General Secretary John Monks. “And trade unions must have rights and mechanisms to be able to raise issues under the procedures of the agreement.”

“The impact on the textiles sector stands to be particularly great unless effective measures to protect workers’ rights,” said ITGLWF General Secretary Patrick Itschert. “Our Indian and European affiliates are united in insisting on a strong social chapter.” Trade unions are also concerned at proposals to include provisions on the temporary cross-border movement of workers in the agreement – unions have always stated that trade agreements should not contain provisions to regulate migration. Should any such articles nonetheless be included, these must provide for full respect for national labour law and existing collective agreements in order to ensure that migrant workers receive employment conditions no less favourable than those of nationals.

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