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    Protect Farmers: Leave Agriculture out of India-UK Trade Deal

    LWA Responds to UK-India Trade Discussions

    Protect Farmers: Leave Agriculture out of India-UK Trade Deal
    23/04/2022 Yali Banton Heath

    Yesterday, Boris Johnson met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi, ahead of discussing the trade deal Johnson eyes as being one of the biggest prizes for pulling out of the European Union. We’re concerned that Johnson’s deal will likely include food and agricultural products, and want to make it clear that we strongly oppose the inclusion of agriculture in a UK-India free trade deal as it would not only damage the livelihoods of farmers here in the UK, but also in India.

    India has historically maintained prohibitively high tariffs (import taxes) on agricultural products entering India to protect the livelihoods of millions of farmers who are dependent on farming for their livelihoods. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation puts agriculture, with its allied sectors, as the largest source of livelihoods in India, supporting over 600 million people.

    In this trade deal, the UK government seeks to lower or eliminate the trade barriers that India puts on its imported food products. However, as a farmers’ union we recognise how new UK export markets in agricultural products could damage the livelihoods of both British and Indian farmers.

    For example, the British government has already negotiated a deal to export British apples and pears, that would usually be made into juice in the UK, to India. However, Indian farmers also grow apples and pears, and new imports could damage their domestic market. Exchanging like-for-like products also creates unnecessarily long supply chains that negatively impact the environment and counter climate change goals.

    Gerald Miles, who has farmed on a mixed organic farm in Pembrokeshire for over 50 years, and is a member of the LWA’s Coordinating Group, says:

    “We want to keep agriculture out of this trade deal because it protects the livelihood of producers in other countries who often do not benefit from a subsidy system or social security if they lose their source of employment. As farmers we do not want to be undercut and do not seek to undercut farmers in other countries.”

    We know that the best way to secure a better livelihood for UK farmers is to stop importing cheaper food from overseas which has been produced to a lower standard; especially during the British growing season.

    Instead of pushing for more free trade agreements, we want the UK Government to invest in growing our domestic market. Initiatives like new public procurement policies to source food for schools and hospitals from British producers and investing in processing facilities to make jams and juices from “imperfect” or outsized produce for the UK domestic market would go a long way in supporting British small farms, while also reducing food waste and shortening supply chains.

    We stand in solidarity with Indian farmers, too. In India, 70 percent of rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 percent of farms being small and marginal. Farmers in India protested widely against a Free Trade Agreement with the US in 2020, and ongoing UK trade negotiations carry similar risks for Indian farmers.

    Whisky is hugely popular in India, and is one of the products on which the UK is seeking to lower tariffs. However, India already has its own robust market, and increased UK production of an already land-intensive product when the world is facing increasing concerns about food security and self-sufficiency is highly unwise.

    The Indian government has also suggested that Indian grain might make up for the UK’s  loss of grain from Ukraine imports, but we don’t see this as being a viable solution and would rather the UK Government support grain prices in the UK, which would be likely undercut by lower prices under new trade deals.

    We’re also concerned about the impact of more exports of grain on poorer communities and landless workers in India, who are extremely vulnerable to food crises, especially if weather instability or other factors impact agricultural yields, or if the prices of nitrogen fertilisers continue to increase.

    The intensification of farming that would be required for India to be able to consistently produce enough grain to feed the UK would also have a negative impact on Indian soils, wildlife and farm workers’ health as this intensification would require the use of more harmful fertilisers and pesticides.

    See our latest campaign: Stop Exporting Banned Pesticides

    The LWA is concerned that Prime Minister Modi, in a bid to represent the growing middle class in India, may barter away protection for its farmers in a bid to secure freedom of movement for professionals and students coming to the UK. We believe that this freedom of movement should be allowed as a form of reparations for the historical injustice of the colonial era, but should not be used as a negotiating point in trade talks, nor as a bargaining chip at the expense of farmers.

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