Cong, JD(S) voice strong reservation against RCEP deal

Siddaramaiah

Opposition parties in Karnataka -- Congress and JD(S) -- on Friday expressed strong reservation over the central government's proposal on signing free trade agreement under RCEP, and warned of protests citing its impact on domestic sector, especially dairy.

While Congress leader Siddaramaiah has demanded that government make public the contents of the proposed RCEP agreement and hold consultations before signing it, JD(S) patriarch and former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda warned of protest if the dairy sector was impacted, pointing out that he was a "farmer's son".

"My demand is that government of India should place before the people what is going on in the free trade agreement and RCEP. It should be debated publicly on pros and cons. By doing it secretly our country's economy should not be destroyed," Siddaramaiah said.

Speaking to reporters here, he said, it should be discussed, and without discussion if government signs the agreement it is like "betraying" the people. Noting that the country was already facing unemployment problem because of demonetisation, GST and "bad economic policies" after Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister, Siddaramaiah said, when economy is in doldrums with decline in GDP, if the dairy industry is hit with this agreement, it will further get destabilised. "Therefore I strongly demand, let it be discussed openly, let our economists, sociologists and experts participate and debate on it at no cost on drugs, milk products, IP related matters- centre should not sign the agreement," he said.

"Without discussing, by keeping it secret if central government signs the agreement on November 4, we will strongly oppose it, our party will oppose and protest against it on the streets. Every one's option should be taken before signing," he added.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - a mega free trade agreement - is being negotiated among 10 ASEAN countries with their six FTA partners (India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand). The proposed deal is expected to be finalised and signed by the next month.

There will be no tax to 95 per cent of the products if FTA is signed, Siddaramaiah said, "now the import duty is almost 25 to 30 per cent but if it is removed, the products will become much cheaper. We will not be able to compete with excess production and cheap imports of foreign goods."

Pointing out that India has a large consumption market due to its population, which other countries want to take advantage of, he alleged that the FTA under RCEP is a strategy by foreign countries to expand their market. More than 10 crore farmers are dependent on dairy farming for their livelihood, and import of cheap products will hurt them and in turn cause rural distress, he said and noted that India ranks number one in milk production and other dairy products, while Karnataka is number two in the country.

With the issue gaining momentum, Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa on Thursday had said that a delegation of State MPs would soon meet Prime Minister and Union Agriculture Minister to draw their attention to concerns over imports of cheap dairy products under the proposed RCEP.

Deve Gowda has warned of protest against any move to import dairy products, his office quoting him in a statement said. "I'm son of a farmer.. any such move to import will affect our farmers, will stage a protest against it," he said.

FTA, which the government is about to sign, will cause long standing negative impact on domestic Agri, Animal husbandry and pharma sectors, opposition leaders have claimed, noting that dairy products of Australia and New Zealand are much cheaper which would make it difficult for our farmers to compete in the market.

Former Union Minister Veerappa Moily said, if the agreement is signed it would sound the "death knell" to our dairy sector, not only in Karnataka but entire country.

"Areca nut and spices sector also will be impacted.... the agreement will only help big traders and industries who import, and not farmers and rural economy," he said adding that any hasty decision without understanding the ground reality will impact the economy negatively.

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