Par panel cautions govt against rushing into FTA with EU

Par panel cautions govt against rushing into FTA with EU New Delhi: As the India and the EU negotiate a free trade agreement, a Parliamentary panel on Thursday cautioned against its early signing and asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to wait for the committee's report before finalising it.

Chairman of the Department Related Parliamentary Committee on Commerce Shanta Kumar has written to Prime Minister today asking him not to rush through the EU-India Broad based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) before the panel gives its final report to Parliament.

The Chairman's letter came after members of the Committee, which met here today, expressed strong concerns over any move to sign the EU-India free trade agreement without taking note of the Committee's views.

The Committee is already studying the impact of the agreement after talking to all stakeholders and is likely to present its report soon.

"The Standing Committee has taken up the issue and all the members expressed their views today at the meeting that since the Committee is studying it and has received many representations that the pact be finalised only after discussion with all stakeholders and after taking the Parliament into confidence," Shanta Kumar told PTI.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Kumar said, "I urge you not to conclude the EU-India Broad based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) immediately and to kindly ensure that the Agreement is signed only after the Committee present/lay its Report on the subject to the Parliament."

Anand Sharma is scheduled to meet EU trade commissioner Karl De Gucht in Brussels on April 15 amidst expectations that the two sides may be able to iron out their differences, finally clearing the way for the signing of the FTA.

Opposing any move to finalise the agreement in a hurry, CPI(M) member in the Standing Committee K N Balagopal said it is "against the interest of India and also against the Parliament's Privilage."

The Rajya Sabha MP said that Standing Committees are considered as mini Parliament and their opinions and reports are very important.

"So Manmohan Singh has to respect Indian Parliament rather than European Union and thus protect Indian Peoples interest," Balagopal told PTI.

Kumar in his letter informed the Prime Minister that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce is presently examining the subject of India?s Engagement with Free Trade Agreements signed or in the pipeline with various countries, regions and blocs in a detailed manner to appreciate the challenges and opportunities arising out of these FTAs.

"I also convey the sentiments of the Committee shared in its meeting held today, 11th April, 2013, where it was strongly debated that it would be appropriate for Government to wait for the Committee's Report on 'India's Engagement with Free Trade Agreements: Challenges and Opportunities' before it proceeds to sign any FTA in future," he said.

Kumar told Singh that Parliamentary scrutiny enables every stakeholder's view to come on board and the Parliamentary report may be used as an effective tool by the government to impress the other party to agreement on the nation's mood on sensitive issues under negotiation and come out with the best deal favourable to the country.

"You will appreciate that secrecy maintained around trade negotiations is undesirable. After all in a democracy like ours, there is no room for non-accountability. The power of treaty-making is so important and has such far-reaching consequences to people and our polity that some element of accountability should be introduced into the process," he said.

He said the Committee feels that Free Trade Agreements under negotiation like EU-India FTA must pass Parliamentary scrutiny before they are signed by the government as these trade agreements always have deep ramifications for Indian farmers, dairy, workers, financial services, local industries, intellectual property protection, government procurement, etc.

PTI