Asks ministry to keep interests of farmers in mind during negotiations
In the context of ongoing discussions between India and the European Union (EU) countries for a proposed Free TradeAgreement (FTA), the country’s largest milk cooperative Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), which owns and markets Amul brand of milk and milk products, has written to commerce minister Anand Sharma to keep the interests of farmers in mind during negotiations.

“Amul had strongly opposed to provide any kind of advantage in import duty on dairy products falling under Chapter 4 of HSN,” a statement from the cooperative said R S Sodhi, managing director of GCMMF has written to Sharma outlining the cooperative’s concerns.

Discussions on finalising a free trade agreement between India and the EU has been going for around six years, and both sides expect to be able to close negotiations by summer of April 2013.

EU does not permit import of dairy products from India in the name of SPS (sanitary and phyto sanitary) measures saying that Indian milch animals are not maintained as per EU standard and hence the dairy products are not safe for consumption.

“Interestingly EU also subsidises their milk farmers by giving various incentives on export of their dairy products which actually make their products cheaper than the cost. So EU wants to export such subsidised dairy products to India considering India as very large and growing market, without giving access to the Indian dairy products to its own market with large NRI population,” Amul said.

The cooperative further pointed out that the EU demands also reveal that they want protection of some of the cheeses like Gouda, Feta, Emmenthal under GI (Geographical Indication) protection, meaning that Indian cheese producers cannot give such name to their cheese.

At the same time, they want to sell Indian ethnic products like Paneer and Lassi in their own market without giving any protection to India, GCMMF said.

Essentially, EU is asking India to give more monopoly protection in the areas (GIs) where it has more intellectual property. This will cost Indian consumers (who have to pay higher prices) and Indian producers (who will no longer be able to clearly identify their products and so are highly likely to lose sales) who are already in nascent stage of agro food processing industry.

“It is also noteworthy that in areas where India is richer, for example in traditional knowledge like Ayurvedic medicine and genetic resources like neem, the EU is refusing to take the measures to stop the biopiracy (protect biological resources by patenting them without paying royalties),” the GCMMF statement said.

India needs to be extremely cautious to ensure that India’s interest is not hampered, it said adding that the Commerce Ministry had been requested to take up the matter very strongly against this protection especially when majority of 80 million Indian farmers (many of whom are marginal and landless) are very much dependent on milk business by keeping one or two cattle which provide their daily livelihood.