15 September 2010, New Delhi - A Ministry of Commerce and Industry delegation in Tokyo last week has agreed “in-principle” to a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Japan. The CEPA will formally be signed by the Prime Minister next month during his visit to Tokyo. Public interest groups have feared the secret signing of this bilateral agreement that has ramifications across several sectors in India. Negotiations on this CEPA started in 2007.
“We have repeatedly asked the Indian Government to hold consultations on India’s negotiating position and the negotiating text but the government has refused to do so,” said Kavaljit Singh of Madhyam. India is said to be negotiating several such agreements also known as Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) including one with the European Union (EU).
CEPAs, like the one proposed between India and Japan are preferred trade arrangements between two countries. These types of FTAs require the Indian government to make commitments far in excess of those it has already signed up to at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Their impact across financial, banking, agricultural, industrial sectors apart from health and environmental concerns have underscored the long standing demands of public interest groups and State Governments for access to these texts being negotiated by India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
“Our RTI Act obligates the Indian Government to publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing decisions which affect the public,“ said Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. “Instead of public consultations and debates on this agreement, we have got more information from the websites of the Japanese government than our own.”
The secrecy around the negotiations has prevented any substantive analysis of the impact of the provisions of this FTA not only on various sectors but also on the livelihoods, health and environmental safety and security of Indians. However, the experience of other Asian countries in such agreements with Japan shows that farmers, fisher folk and mass movements opposing "free trade" have good reason to worry.
A major stumbling block for the negotiations was reportedly Japan’s demands for intellectual property protection beyond the TRIPS Agreement. With their demands for plant variety – protection, this was of concern not only for access to medicines but also for livelihoods of farmers and the ownership of seeds. Although reports indicate the Indian government has not given in to these demands, groups fear this may still not address their concerns. “We expect the Indian government to deal with high prices of patented medicines not only through compulsory licences but also price control and regulation. However, we fear that the government may have tied its hands in taking such measures by signing on to an investment chapter like those contained in other Japanese trade agreements,” said Vikas Ahuja of the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+).
The investment chapter in this CEPA reportedly contains provisions allowing Japanese investors to challenge Indian government actions that may negatively impact their investments in India. While health groups fear a Japanese company may challenge a compulsory licence or drug price control as measures affecting their investments, democratic rights groups point to the cases of Vedanta and Posco where the impact on local environment and traditional livelihoods are being highlighted in opposing these investments by foreign companies. Investment provisions should not dilute the ability of the government to take action in such cases.
With this agreement, Japanese investors in India could be accorded the same rights as Indian investors in economic sectors where they are allowed. In the area of “fisheries”, for instance, current policy requires foreign fishing fleets to collaborate with Indian companies. The India-Japan CEPA could lift these restrictions on foreign fleets fishing in Indian waters for Japanese operators. “Japanese fleets have much better facilities than our fishworkers. If they are allowed to come into the Indian waters, they will catch our fish and even be able to sell it back into our own market duty free. This will affect the livelihoods of fishers, but also fish vendors and fish traders in India,” said T. Peter of the National Fishworkers Forum. Japan is also not known for “sustainable” fishing or whaling practices, thus placing the fragile marine eco-system at risk as well.
Investment provisions could also impact the agriculture sector with many big Japanese companies, like Sakata which sells seeds and Kubota, which sells agricultural machinery operating in India. “Such provisions could give priority access over land and water to corporations, thereby creating a crisis for local farming and pastoral communities. Farmers’ freedoms and food sovereignty would be further threatened if the investment rules also obligate the Indian government to protect plant varieties and patents on seeds as the ‘assets’ of Japanese firms,” said Shalini Bhutani of GRAIN.
Japan’s interest in the export of hazardous waste across the Asian continent, as evidenced by its FTAs with other Asian countries is also a cause for grave concern. These agreements not only classify 'waste' like any 'commodity' but also encourage its import through a reducing tariff. “If applied as is, it will open a floodgate of waste dumping into India, besides encouraging the shifting of global waste recycling operations here, which leave all the toxics behind. Alongside it also creates a disincentive for legislating stricter national environmental waste import laws in the future. High consumption countries like Japan, are keen to get rid of their waste overseas, since they have almost no land for waste disposal. We seem to be senselessly willing to bear the toxic legacy of their consumption,” said Ravi Agarwal of Toxics Link.
Across the Asia-Pacific region, trade agreements with Japan have seen widespread protests in Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. In fact the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement has been challenged in the Supreme Court of Philippines. The widespread protests in these countries to the dangers of toxic waste coming from Japan through these Agreements has led to formal notes from the Japanese government to the Thai and Philippines governments guaranteeing that such waste would not be exported through the trade agreement.
The Indian Government, it appears has asked for no such guarantees.
For more information and interviews, contact:
Pallavi, Center for Education and Communication : +91-98103 93391