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Over 50,000 Farmers Protest Against WTO in India
 
October 3, 2005
Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements

On October 2, 2005, more than 50,000 farmers from 14 states of India including Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttranchal, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Maharashtra belonging to different farmers unions participated in a huge Rally against WTO in Mumbai. The Rally was organised by Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements, which is a coalition of farmer unions from across the country, which include the Bhartiya Kissan Union (All India), the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, the Shetkari Sangathana (Maharashtra), the Madhya Pradesh Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, the Tamil Nadu Farmers and Workers Party, and the Andhra Pradesh Agricultural Labourers Union. The main leaders who spoke at the Rally include Mr. Mahender Singh Tikait, Mr. Yudhvir Singh, Mr. Vijay Jawandia, Dr. Sunilam, Ms. Chukki Najundaswami, Mr. Selvam Muthu, Mr. Rakesh Tikait and others.

One of the main demands of these farmers is to take out agriculture from the purview of the World Trade Organisation. They also demand for an increase in the import duty on agricultural commodities and reinstating Quantitative Restrictions to protect Indian farmers and farming. The farmers submitted a five-page memorandum to the Mumbaiís Deputy Police Commissioner addressed to the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh urging him to keep agriculture out of WTO. At the end of the Rally, the farmers marched towards the port but they were not allowed to go out of the Azad Maidan. According to the Mumbai police 45,000 farmers courted arrest at the Azad Maidan and later on released.

Below is a statement issued by the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements.

The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements, a coalition of farmer unions from across the country, held a massive protests on 2nd October 2005, on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhiís birth anniversary, at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai. More than 50,000 farmers from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttranchal, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Maharashtra participated in this protest. The massive protest was against the increased dumping of cheap subsidised agricultural goods and pro-corporate, anti-farmer policies of the Government of India. The UPA government came to power with the mandate from the rural India but now they are coming out with anti-farmers and pro-corporation polices, for example the Seed Bill 2004, the Food Safety and Standards Bill 2004, the National Agriculture Policy encouraging contract farming, the dismantling of the Public Distribution System, withdrawal of Minimum Support Price for the most of the commodities, the dismantling of the government procurement system, the reversal of the land reforms for MNCs and agro-businesses, the setting up of the private mandis by ITC and Cargill, and the free import of seeds and plant materials.

Since 1995, when India joined the WTO, there has been a surge in imports of agricultural commodities, which are being dumped by developed countries in the international market below their cost of production. This has led to a deep decline in domestic agriculture prices and has deepened the agrarian crisis in rural India. The bulk of agricultural imports constitute mainly edible oils, pulses (chickpeas, pigeon peas, lentils, dry peas etc.). Other major items imported on a regular basis include dairy products, raw cashew nuts, fruits and raw cotton etc.

The crisis in Indian agriculture is evident from farmersí suicides in every corner of the country and since 1995 more than 25000 farmers brethren have committed suicides all over the country. This is because of the cascading effect of the capital-intensive, corporate agribusiness-driven, export-oriented, peasant-insensitive domestic policies coupled with the subsidized import surge due to withdrawal of Quantitative Restrictions, which has led to depression in the domestic farmgate commodity prices. The burden of the agrarian distress has fallen on the small and marginal farmers in India. This is a direct result of the WTOís Agreement on Agriculture that protects subsidies in the developed countries and allows them to dump cheap commodities in countries such as India. Despite this Indiaís position towards the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial in Dec. 2005 does not reflect the concerns of Indian farmers.

Moreover, the distortions and imbalances in agriculture trade have also drastically affected the prices, incomes and livelihoods of small farmers in India. Since the inception of the WTO, there is a steep decline in the prices of agricultural commodities internationally. From 1980 to 2000, world prices for 18 major export commodities fell by 25% in real terms. During this period the decline was especially steep for cotton (47%), coffee (64%), rice (61%), cocoa (71%) and sugar (77%). For example international cotton prices came down from 128 cents per pound in 1981 to 38.7 US cents per pound in 2002. Similarly rice prices came down from 565 US$/tonne in 1981 to 160.8 US$/tonne in 2002 and sugar prices came down from 18.11 US cents per pound in 1981 to 5.68 US cents per pound in 2002

The world prices of the agriculture commodities have gone down mainly because of the high domestic and export subsidies attached to the developed countries' commodity exports. For example the OECD data shows that in the 25 OECD countries the Total Support Estimate (TSE), a measure of domestic support, rose from US $275.6 billion (annual average for base period 1986-88) to US $326 billion in 1999, while US has given a fresh subsidy of US$190 billion in 2002 under the US Farm Bill 2002.

According to a report, the 2003 US figures show that the agriculture exports from US were sold much below the cost of production:

  • Wheat was exported at an average price of 28 percent below cost of production.
  • Cotton was exported at an average price of 47 percent below cost of production.
  • Rice was exported at an average price of 26 percent below cost of production.

And as long as the subsidies continue, the dumping of artificially cheapened agricultural products to developing countries will continue. This has serious effects on rural livelihoods and food security in countries like India.

Instead of addressing their distorted trade practices, the developed world is putting pressure on developing countries to lower the agricultural tariff to allow fair market access to the developed world and their agribusiness corporations. The agricultural tariff in developing countries is already very low and there is very little capacity to undertake further significant cuts without disrupting their rural economies. Tariffs are the only instruments available to these countries for protecting their farmers.

In India in 1990-91, the average applied rate of import tariff was 113%, which was drastically lowered to 35% in 1997-98, which increased to 41% in 2001-02, but again it declines and in 2004-2005 the average applied tariff is 37.5%. Hence the average applied tariff rate in 2004-05 is almost 65% lower than the average applied rate in 1990-91. Some of the key agricultural goods have the minimum applied tariff rate in India, which include pulses 10%, Maize 15%, milk powder 15% etc.

With the withdrawal of quantitative restriction and reduction in tariff, there is a surge of cheap subsidised imports in India. The import of pulses have increased from 490.75 thousands tonnes in 1995-96 to 1992.8 thousands tonnes in 2002-2003. Similarly import of spices increased from 24.28 thousands tonnes in 1995-96 to 147.69 thousands tonnes in 2003-2004. Import of sugar increased from 29 thousands tonnes in 1996-97 to 932.3 thousands tonnes in 2004-05. Edible oil imports increased from 1061.99 thousands tonnes in 1995-96 to 5290.2 thousands tonnes in 2003-04. Cotton import increased from 2.92 thousands tonnes in 1996-97 to 387 thousands tonnes in 2001-2002.

The dumping of these agricultural commodities led to depression in the domestic farmgate prices, which led to a deep agrarian crisis and caused increased cases of farmers suicides because farmers fail to get even their principal capital investment in agriculture.

The Indian farmers demand for immediate reinstating of the Quantitative Restriction. Reintroducing QRs and increasing tariffs is the survival imperative for the Indian farmers. QRs are a right to defend ourselves from perverse dumping that is leading to genocide. The W.T.O. distortions in our food and agriculture must be removed as a matter of emergency.

We believe that the very structure of W.T.O. rules therefore distorts trade against small farmers, against food sovereignty and against trade justice. That is why we gave a call for the removal of agriculture from W.T.O.

In the forthcoming Ministerial in Hong Kong, the Indian government might consider further lowering of agricultural tariff for providing increased market access to US and its agribusiness corporations like Cargill and ADM in order to get a larger share in the H1B visa given by the US. This would be disastrous for the Indian agriculture and its farmers.

Agriculture in India is not an industry. It is the main source of livelihood for 70% of the population of the country. We therefore demand from the Indian government to quit from WTO. We also demand that agriculture should be out of WTO.

Signed by Mr. Yudhvir Singh, Member Secretary, ICCFM

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