The Kerala government is reaching out to other south Indian States in a bid to create lobbying power to influence the Central government policy on international trade treaties and to cushion the impact of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on various domestic sectors.

Official sources said efforts were on to reach a consensus with other States on the need for wider consultations on trade pacts that affected the market and impacted on the livelihood security of farmers, fishers and other vulnerable sections.

Regional bloc

Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunil Kumar told
The Hindu
that the government had received a favourable response to the proposal to form a regional bloc for the purpose. “The governments of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana have indicated that they are favourably disposed to the idea of closing ranks to protect domestic interests. We are trying to find common ground and demand a greater say in tariff negotiations.”

The Minister said moves were afoot to network with senior officials across the six States. This would be followed by ministerial-level discussions on countering the impact of trade pacts. The outreach programme is being coordinated by the Agricultural Prices Board and the WTO Cell.

Officials said the initiative was driven by the growing public hostility to trade treaties such as the Indo-ASEAN FTA and Indo-Sri Lanka FTA. Kerala, they pointed out, was one of the worst-affected States, with domestic production and export of cash crops such as pepper and rubber taking a hit.

The State government has conveyed to the Centre its deep concern over the the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed FTA between 10-member States of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six FTA partners — India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

It is raising the pitch for States to be included in tariff negotiations on the pact.

Experts felt that the agricultural sector in India was poised to take a big hit as RCEP opened up trade ties with China, a nation that relied on monopoly practices to boost trade.

The liberalised import of milk and dairy products from Australia and New Zealand and fish, soyabean oil, rubber, rice, palm oil, tea, coffee, pepper, and poultry from ASEAN countries was also seen as a big threat.

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