The Kerala Fisheries Coordination Committee (KFCC) has been demanding a stop to the ASEAN – India Free Trade Agreement.
However, seeing that the UPA government had not taken any action on this demand the Committee organized a protest at Parliament on November 11, 2009.
The KFCC is a coalition of many workers’ unions among which are Kerala Independent Fish Workers Foundation, CITU, AITUC, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, UTUC, INTUC, BMS, Matsaya Thozhilali Congress (S), Kerala State Fishing Boat Operators Association and Trade Union Centre of India (TUCI).
ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) comprises 10 South East Asian Countries – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam which has emerged as a powerful trade body in Asia and the world. India is trying, along with China and Japan, to engage ASEAN and get a good market for its exports. In return, the Indian bourgeoisie is opening up the doors of India for imports from ASEAN.
Addressing the demonstration, S. Peter said that the Commerce Minister Anand Sharma signed the ASEAN – India Agreement on August 13, 2009. Under this agreement thousands of fishes and fish products will come into the market at low tariff prices by January 2010. The Chief Minister of Kerala and Fisheries Minister were not informed of the products that would be affected by the agreement when it was signed, even though agriculture and fishing are state subjects.
The UPA government has agreed to the reduction of tariff by 89% or a steep reduction of tariff or altogether eliminating the tariff on agricultural, sea and other products without even so much as a consultation or dialogue with the Kerala government, farmers and fish workers’ unions. The fish-workers, who will be most affected by the agreement have been kept in the dark about it, while the industry experts were given full scope to air their arguments for it.
The Delhi Secretary of Lok Raj Sangathan, Birju Nayak said that this is the biggest threat looming over the traditional means of livelihood of the people living on the sea coast. The government is attacking the livelihood of the people with laws and ordinances which will essentially help Indian and international big businessmen in increasing profits and filling their pockets. Lok Raj Sangathan wholeheartedly supports the struggle of the fishermen of Kerala who are trying to save their means of livelihood.
V.V. Shashindran explained that most coastal regions like Kerala that come under the ASEAN have weather conditions which support a variety of fish species very similar to those off the coast of India. Once the FTA comes into play, imports of more than 177 fish species will be allowed at very low or zero tariff. The compromise that has been made in monitoring and quality control under the FTA will pose risks to health. The government is claiming that many products will not be included in the list. However, this does not reduce the impact of this agreement on the livelihood of the fishermen. Even a reduction of 5% in the tariffs will lead to a fall in market prices which, in return, will badly affect the fishermen and their traditional means of livelihood. With some products coming under the influence of big business, thanks to the signing of this agreement by India, very soon other products will also be compromised. The conditions are worsening every year. The situation is such that the people dependant on coastal regions for their livelihood are not able to cope with even a slight decline in prices.
P. Raju (Former MP) said that the fishing industry, small scale producers and workers of this region are facing a dire situation. This sort of agreement will push these communities towards unemployment and further poverty. In this context, the fisheries sector is demanding and raising the slogan of ‘no to fish – free trade’ under the banner of the Kerala Fisheries Coordination Committee.
Other speakers included – Charles George, Chavara Sirson and Joseph Xavier.
After the protest, a letter with their demands was handed over to the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.