An agreement between the European Union and India slated to cover many areas including trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property rights, competition policy, government procurement etc. Sounds promising? Except the details of the same remain largely unknown.
Begun in 2007, the EU-India rounds of negotiation to establish a Free Trade Agreement between the two, aims to have far reaching consequences in the way the trade is carried out. However, there have been several gaping holes in the proper execution of the same, the most obvious being the lack of transparency.
As the 6th round of negotiations began on March 17th in the Indian capital, it was obvious that groups likely to be affected by the FTA would no longer remain silent spectators. A peaceful protest in front of the office of the European Commission (EC) demanding an audience or at least attention to the issues brought forth before Trade bureaucrats from the EC and the Indian Commerce Ministry, led to police detention. This 3 day round of negotiation was to deliberate on issues ranging from services, manufacturing, trade facilitation which includes contentious issues such as agriculture, investment, fisheries, intellectual property, and government procurement.
It is no secret however, that the agreement will in fact affect several groups of people from the grassroot level right up to big leading industries. Agriculturally, there are worries have been expressed that “EU subsidies are kept out of the negotiations and this will allow agribusiness in EU to dump subsidized products such as dairy into the country.” However, closer home to SpicyIP, the Intellectual Property scenario does not seem to bode well either.
A number of reservations being made on the fact that the standard prescribed in this FTA is probably of a standard that is much stricter than that prescribed in the TRIPS. Furthermore, several groups also articulated the concern that there might be an undermining of the access to treatment, across the nation and other developing countries. With the widely recognised leader in generically manufactured drugs involved in a possible FTA that is stringently worded and following incidents that we have reported several times – the adverse impacts of stringent provisions on intellectual property rights are evident, and the worries are seemingly justified.
Free trade agreements have oft been opposed by groups in India, since a developing economy has unequal bargaining power and probably little to gain (and more to lose) from such an agreement. With worries of unemployment, falling demand of domestically produced products, and the lack of resources to compete with internationally produced products, worries are writ large in India as to the possible outcome of these negotiations. In addition to this worry, generic manufacturers that contribute greatly to the economy and aid in the access to medicines for treatment of various diseases could also be gravely affected by the materialization of this FTA.
To understand what the scope of the agreement is as well as its consequences the Forum on FTAs (the Forum on FTAs, a platform of people’s organisations that organized the protest) had made a public statement and sent a letter addressed to the Head of Delegation, Delegation of the European Commission to India, Bhutan and Nepal and the Minister for Commerce (India), requesting the details of the rounds of negotiation (available here). However, the response to the same was that the texts could not be made available. This was described as ‘disappointing but not surprising’. However the endeavour to get such documents in the public domain cannot stop.
Especially with the current economic scenario globally, an agreement such as this, that is likely to affect several groups of people across the board in different ways, the need for transparency cannot be emphasized enough. And to achieve the same, movements such as those organized by the Forum on FTAs are laudable and must be encouraged.