As WTO trade talks on cutting farm subsidies and industrial tariffs reach a critical juncture, farm leaders in India have said the country should withdraw from the Doha negotiations if the livelihood concerns of its farmers are not addressed in the Round.

Rejecting the fresh WTO proposals on agriculture, 30 heads of farm associations from across the country have asked the government to “withdraw from the ongoing negotiations as any compromise will jeopardise the future of Indian farming”.

These leaders, who held a day-long marathon meeting in New Delhi, came out with a resolution that ”India should come out the WTO and should not sacrifice the livelihood of 800 million farmers, advasis, dalits and rural women”. ”India should not dilute its position at the WTO negotiations as the ‘special products’ (SP) and Special Safeguard Measures (SSM) offered to us, are only a smokescreen and offers no real protection to Indian agriculture, fisheries and forestry,” the resolution underlined.

The farmer leaders charged the government of diluting India’s position at the WTO trade talks and asked it to re impose quantitative restrictions on cheap imports to address livelihood concerns of farmers. “Cheap subsidised imports would pose a serious threat to food and livelihood security of million of Indian farmers. If we import cheap foodgrains, we would import unemployment,” Forum Chairman Devinder Sharma said.

The leaders, representing farmers, fishermen, agriculture labourers, forest dwellers and dairy farmers, gathered in New Delhi at a conference organised by the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security and UNCTAD India. “We, representing the majority of India are highly concerned about the dilution of government’s position at the WTO negotiations, which will play havoc with the lives of farmers,” stated a statement . They also demanded that India’s stand on the WTO proposals on agriculture and industrial goods be debated in Parliament before it is presented in Geneva.

“The Indian government should not participate in the Ministerial Meeting of WTO without a debate in Parliament as well as at the state level,” Karnataka Pradesh Red Gram Growers Association President Basavaraj Ingin said according to the media reports. The Doha Round of trade talks, launched in 2001, have remained inconclusive due to differences between rich and developing countries over the level of cut in farm subsidies and market access for industrial goods.

Fresh proposals on agriculture and industrial goods were circulated in Geneva last month. India rejected the texts saying they did not provide enough policy space to developing countries to address livelihood concerns of poor farmers. The US and Director General of WTO Pascal Lamy are keen on holding a Ministerial Meeting in July for achieving blueprint for completing the Doha Round. Demanding that agriculture negotiations be kept out of the WTO talks, Ingin said, “Negotiations are held among equals.

Agriculture is a way of life for over 70 per cent of the Indian population, while for the US it is a commercial activity. It is inappropriate to compare and mix the two.” Sharma further said if 80 per cent of the 360 billion dollar subsidies extended by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is written-off, it would benefit farmers in poor and developing countries. “The US calls India’s annual one billion dollar input subsidy on fertilisers, water, seed and pesticide as trade distorting at a time when its farm bill proposes a subsidy of 289 billion dollars for five years,” Sharma said.

Mr Vijay Jawandia from Shetkari Sanghtana, Mharashtra said, ”any compromise by the Indian government will jeopardise the future of farming.”

Mr Malla Reddy, President of Andhra Pradesh Raitu Sangha said ”the import of edible oils at low duties has destroyed millions of oilseeds farmers in AP.”

Mr Basavaraj Ingin from Karnataka said the removal of quantitative restrictions by India, has already played a havoc with the agriculture and ”these should be restored.”

Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta) Punjab President Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan said, ”the food basket of the country will become a begging bowl of India accepts inequitable agreement on agriculture.”

Meanwhile, Mr Yudhvir Singh of BKU also sounded the same sentiments and Mr N D Koli from National Fishworkers’ Forum said the highly subsidised import of fish from Japan and Korea, had already reduced the livihood option for Indian fishermen. The forum would be submitting a resolution to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Leader of the Opposition L K Advani, putting forth views of the farm-sector mass leaders.

The farm organisations would also be organising campaigns in states like Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka to spread awareness about the WTO deal and its impact on Indian farmers.