The Kerala Government has pointed that the Centre should consult the states before signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, saying it would have an adverse impact on the agriculture sector. The CPI(M)-led LDF (Left Democratic Front) government in Kerala plans to write to the Narendra Modi government at the Centre on the dangers of signing the pact.
RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the six states (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand) with which ASEAN has the current, much-discussed free trade agreements.
Signing the RCEP agreement would result in the import of cash crops, milk products, rubber and tea without duty, state agriculture minister V S Sunil Kumar told the Assembly, in reply to an adjournment motion on the agrarian crisis in Kerala.
“Signing the pact would aggravate the crisis already faced by the farming sector due to the adverse impact of previous treaties including the WTO and ASEAN,” he said. The LDF government has always taken a strong stand against the RCEP and other similar agreements, and there would be not be hesitation to take up the the matter with the Centre again, the minister said. “The Centre should consult with the states before signing the agreement,” he remarked.
Referring to reports on the move to shift the Rubber Board headquarters from Kerala, he said the state government could not accept this at any cost. “Kerala produces 90% of the total rubber production in the country. We have already told the Centre that the Rubber Board office should not be shifted,” the minister said.
Alleging a ‘step-motherly’ attitude towards the state on matters related to agriculture, Kumar said the state would give a detailed letter to the Centre explaining its position on the issue. An amount to the tune of `704 crore had been released under the ‘production incentive’ scheme last year, he said, to emphasise the lukewarm treatment to the rubber growers of the state.
Leader of opposition in the Kerala Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala of Congress, said state farmers were facing a serious crisis due to various issues and sought the immediate intervention of both the state and the Centre. As an immediate relief, agriculture loans upto `2 lakh should be written off and a permanent price stabilisation fund be launched for all agricultural crops in the state, he said.
Agreeing to the state minister’s views on RCEP, opposition leader emphasised that the Centre should show readiness to consult the state before implementing it. The opposition later staged a walkout after speaker P Sreeramakrishnan rejected their demand for a debate on the alleged crisis faced by farmers in the state.