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Farmers, trade unions urge government to halt RCEP negotiations
Saturday November 29, 2014 7:16 PM, IANS

Farmer organisations, trade unions and civil society groups have asked the government to immediately halt its negotiations for joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) mega trade deal, saying it would "jeopardize" the government's efforts to revive manufacturing, hit agriculture and access to affordable medicines.

Yudhvir Singh, convenor, Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers' Movements, said that farmers' movements in India are opposed to the RCEP as it "has the potential to irreparably damage Indian dairy and agriculture sector in total", said a statement from the Forum Against FTAs.

Singh said deeper tariff cuts on agriculture products will intensify the agriculture crisis in India.

Amitava Guha, from Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said many of the RCEP countries have advanced manufacturing capability. Elimination of import duties on industrial products would intensify the cut-throat competition to reduce the cost of production and harm workers' welfare.

Gopakumar of Third World Network (TWN) said that governments like Japan and Australia are pushing for 'TRIPS Plus' provisions in RCEP negotiations. Such a strict intellectual property regime will restrict generic manufacturing of medicines at affordable prices, adversely affect public health objectives and increase cost of treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS and many other life threatening diseases, said the statement.

In the letter to Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, civil society groups demanded the government to immediately halt India's engagement in all FTAs including RCEP negotiations and to make public all RCEP documents.

They also urged the government to hold public consultations with all stakeholders who will be directly affected by RCEP including farmers' organizations, trade unions, patient groups, generic industry, SMEs and civil society organisations.

The appeal to the government comes in the backdrop of the 6th Round of RCEP negotiations scheduled to take place Dec 1-5 in New Delhi.

RCEP is an FTA involving 16 countries including 10 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and its free trading partners including Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand.

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