Skip to main content

Farm laws 'precursor' to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

By Rajiv Shah

Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?
A Barcelona (Spain)-based international non-profit organisation, claiming to work to support small farmers and biodiversity-based food systems suggested in a comprehensive paper published on May 26, 2020, suggests that this is what may have happened. Analysts, quoting US officials, say, a change in the US administration may, at best, may delay the FTA process, not abandon it.
According to the non-profit, GRAIN, an Indo-US trade agreement would be on lines of US deals with over last three years with South Korea, China, Canada and Mexico. Insisting that the whole idea of FTA is to access Indian markets in every possible way, GRAIN thinks, it would also mean reversal of India’s current policy of protecting farmers. It says, “Agriculture in the US, which is heavily controlled by large agribusiness corporations, is highly dependent on exports. However, despite numerous attempts, the US has never managed to get India to open it markets to US farm goods.”
Suggesting that things began in September 2019 when Modi went to US, with President Donald Trump announcing that he was working to expand US exports to India, GRAIN says, “Immediately after, India withdrew from the Asia-Pacific wide trade negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Commerce Minister announced that India had begun exploring trade agreements with the US and the European Union (EU).”
Insists GRAIN, “A US-India FTA could be worse than RCEP. India’s farmers, having an average land holding of one hectare, will be forced to compete with US farmers whose average landholding is 176 hectares. There are 2.1 million farms across the US employing less than 2% of the population, with average annual on-farm income per farm household of $18,637.11 Whereas more than half of India’s 1.3 billion that depend on agriculture do so for their livelihoods, with the average annual income of per farm household (from all sources) at less than US$1000.”
Pointing towards what an FTA with India could contain, GRAIN states, it would not just be about tariffs. It would “impose major changes” in regulatory frameworks, including “greater harmonisation of health, safety and marketing standards in order to expand trade in agriculture and food products.” In fact, it would mean allowing free marketing of genetically modified seeds to India – as seen in US-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA.
“Harmonisation under US FTAs means bringing other countries closer into line with the US’ lack of health and safety precautions restrictions should be minimalised so that trade can grow”, says GRAIN, adding, “The USMCA contains a new chapter on regulatory good practices and another on sanitary measures that go further in advancing ‘equivalence’ between the three countries’ health and safety standards. The goal is to ensure that if one country says a product is safe under its regulations, the other two will accept the product as safe under theirs – and to speed up these determinations as much as possible.”
“The US seed industry is very excited about how the USMCA recognizes the importance of plant breeding innovation, including newer methods like gene editing, and contains provisions enhancing information exchange and cooperation related to the trade of agricultural biotechnology”, GRAIN says.
It adds, “Similarly, the US-China trade deal imposes speedier food safety checks for imports into China and speedier approvals in China for GMOs. As a result of the deal, China allowed the import of GM papaya and soybean from the US in December 2019, and the following month approved five GM crops for animal feed.” 
FTA would mean reversal of current Indian policy, under which no biotechnology derived food crop is approved for consumption
In the trade talks between US and UK, GRAIN states, the US agribusiness lobby pushed for “slashing of regulatory standards in UK on pesticides, GM crops, and the production of chicken and meat products. Cargill, for instance, has demanded that the US seek “complete agricultural market access” for its company and “eliminate intended or unintended non-tariff barriers in the agriculture sector”, GRAIN points out, adding, “These could have far reaching implications for food safety in the UK as it would force the country to open its border to hormone-fed beef, chlorine washed chicken and GM foods that until now are banned in the UK.”
Modi, Trump at Hyderabad House, Feb 25, 2020
According to GRAIN, “India will have a fierce battle on this front, if the FTA talks move ahead. In 2018, the US-India Business Council already came out with a recommendation that food products marketed in India with 5% or more GM ingredients be labelled accordingly. This was seen as a backhanded attempt to introduce GM food in India, where it is currently not allowed. US companies have equally been trying for the last several years to get India to import GM animal feed. Recently, India’s GM regulatory body has sought more inputs to possibly allow this. So, US corporate pressure to loosen restrictions in India is already happening.”
According to GRAIN, “Both the USMCA and US-China FTA contain provisions on the ‘low level presence’ of GMOs in imported food or agricultural products. The USMCA text requires importing countries like Mexico to ensure that the ‘inadvertent’ presence of GM material in food or farm products be dealt with very quickly and taking into account the safety approval for the product on the exporters’ side. In other words, the low level presence of GM ingredients should be permitted, regardless of different national laws. The US-China phase one FTA provides for the same.”
GRAIN says, any Indo-US FTA on farm products would mean reversal of the current Indian policy, under which “no biotechnology derived food crop has been approved for consumption in India.” It states, “The ‘low level presence’ provisions would legalise contamination of India’s food system with GM materials not approved by India’s food safety authority for human consumption”, adding, “USMCA and US-China agreement both have sections on agricultural biotechnology which contain obligations for speeding up the approval process for GMOs.”
GRAIN thinks, “Another important concern about Trump’s trade deals are their requirement to ratify the 1991 convention of the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV) providing patent-like rights to seed companies.” Pointing out that “it has been a core element of US FTAs since the 1990s”, GRAIN says, “The USMCA obliges Mexico, which is a member of UPOV under the 1978 convention, to upgrade to the much harsher UPOV 1991 version. The US seed industry is very excited about this, calling it ‘a win’ for them.”
As India has a policy not to join the UPOV convention in order to protect the interests of its millions of small farmers and non-corporate breeders, GRAIN suggests, a new “US-India FTA will have serious implications for farmers’ rights in India if the government is put under pressure to join UPOV. Given the recent scandal over Indian farmers allegedly infringing a PepsiCo potato variety in 2019, it is quite possible that the US seed industry will push for stronger seed monopoly rights under the US-India FTA and eliminate possibilities for farmers to save seeds.”

Comments

After reading this article, I realise why the farm laws were pushed through. Once Trump's defeat was certain, the government had to make sure the pact with US government was signed before he left office. I wonder what Biden's take on this will be.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for bringing it to our attention and I hope Biden will understand to re-build relations with non-agri economies. Kudos for your intellect, depth and connection with the issue. Those trying to distract others must read it for their own sanity, and I am sharing it with my circles.
Anonymous said…
The US has a large population of "howdy modis"

TRENDING

Bill Gates as funder, author, editor, adviser? Data imperialism: manipulating the metrics

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD*  When Mahatma Gandhi on invitation from Buckingham Palace was invited to have tea with King George V, he was asked, “Mr Gandhi, do you think you are properly dressed to meet the King?” Gandhi retorted, “Do not worry about my clothes. The King has enough clothes on for both of us.”

Displaced from Bangladesh, Buddhist, Hindu groups without citizenship in Arunachal

By Sharma Lohit  Buddhist Chakma and Hindu Hajongs were settled in the 1960s in parts of Changlang and Papum Pare district of Arunachal Pradesh after they had fled Chittagong Hill Tracts of present Bangladesh following an ethnic clash and a dam disaster. Their original population was around 5,000, but at present, it is said to be close to one lakh.

What's Bill Gates up to? Have 'irregularities' found in funding HPV vaccine trials faded?

By Colin Gonsalves*  After having read the 72nd report of the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on alleged irregularities in the conduct of studies using HPV vaccines by PATH in India, it was startling to see Bill Gates bobbing his head up and down and smiling ingratiatingly on prime time television while the Prime Minister lectured him in Hindi on his plans for the country. 

Anti-Rupala Rajputs 'have no support' of numerically strong Kshatriya communities

By Rajiv Shah  Personally, I have no love lost for Purshottam Rupala, though I have known him ever since I was posted as the Times of India representative in Gandhinagar in 1997, from where I was supposed to do political reporting. In news after he made the statement that 'maharajas' succumbed to foreign rulers, including the British, and even married off their daughters them, there have been large Rajput rallies against him for “insulting” the community.

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Youth as game changers in Lok Sabha polls? Young voter registration 'is so very low'

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava*  Young voters will be the game changers in 2024. Do they realise this? Does it matter to them? If it does, what they should/must vote for? India’s population of nearly 1.3 billion has about one-fifth 19.1% as youth. With 66% of its population (808 million) below the age of 35, India has the world's largest youth population. Among them, less than 40% of those who turned 18 or 19 have registered themselves for 2024 election. According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), just above 1.8 crore new voters (18-and 19-year-olds) are on the electoral rolls/registration out of the total projected 4.9 crore new voters in this age group.

Mark Lee: A spiritual leader who thought conventional religions are barrier to liberation

  By Harsh Thakor*  The Krishnamurti Foundation of America (KFA) lost Roger Edwin Mark Lee, who was a devoted disciple of Jiddu Krishnamurti, one of the greatest and most self realised spiritual philosophers of our time. Mark passed away due to pneumonia complications on April 6, 2024, at he Ventura Community Memorial Hospital in California. His exit was an irreparable loss to the spiritual world.

Stagnating wages since 2014-15: Economists explain Modi legacy for informal workers

By Our Representative  Real wages have barely risen in India since 2014-15, despite rapid GDP growth. The country’s social security system has also stagnated in this period. The lives of informal workers remain extremely precarious, especially in states like Jharkhand where casual employment is the main source of livelihood for millions. These are some of the findings presented by economists Jean Drèze and Reetika Khera at a press conference convened by the Loktantra Bachao 2024 campaign. 

Fossil fuel projects: NGOs ask investors to cut TotalEnergies’ main sources of finance

By Antoine Bouhey, Lara Cuvelier, Helen Burley*  Reclaim Finance has joined 58 NGOs from around the world, including Banktrack, in signing an open letter calling on banks and investors to stop participating in bonds (loans granted by investors and facilitated by banks) issued by TotalEnergies. The 58 NGO signatories include 350.org , Amazon Watch, BankTrack, Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR, Papua New Guinea), Justiça Ambiental (Mozambique) and Friday for Future (Uganda), Oil Change International and Urgewald (Germany).