Wednesday, March 18, 2009

India’s trade talks with EU threatened

Gilani, Iftikhar (Daily Times, Pakistan) 2009-03-09 

Trade negotiations between India and the European Union (EU) are threatened to collapse as a result of non-trade issues such as human rights and democracy, including investigations into the alleged “extra-judicial killings” in Jammu and Kashmir.

At stake is the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which India has been negotiating with the 27-member European bloc since 2007, aimed at securing duty-free trade of goods, services, and investments during a time when India’s exports to the EU are growing fast.

The EU is India’s largest trade partner, accounting for 21 percent of merchandise exports.

This month’s talks have been called off by the EU citing “operational reasons”, although insiders have attributed it to India failing to agree on the new conditionality injected by a draft report of the Members of the European Parliament (MEP).

Filed in December by a delegation of MEP who are part of the Committee on International Trade of the European Parliament, the report wanted to include human rights and democracy issues in the CEPA talks as well as an international investigation into the alleged killings in Jammu and Kashmir.

The report also called for legally binding and enforceable social and environmental standards in the negotiations in addition to taking up the issues of child labour, illegal smuggling of tiger skins to China-controlled Tibet, and monitoring of trade ships entering the Indian ports by the EU authorities, among other things.

A proposed addition to the draft report also calls for the European Commission (EC) to refrain from liberalisation of capital movements against the backdrop of the ongoing financial crisis. According to the Indian trade envoy, the talks are bound to stall if the EU introduces these clauses in the negotiations.

“These are ploys to put pressure on India through non-trade issues at a time when the global slowdown is impacting them”, said a government official familiar with trade negotiations.

India has opposed the inclusion of environment and social issues also in the current Doha Round of world trade talks under the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Among the numerous non-trade issues raised in the draft report include the religious minorities and continuing alleged persecution of the human rights defenders, extra-judicial killings, and alleged unmarked mass graves in Jammu and Kashmir. It also calls for the Indian government to grant access for the United Nations Special Rapporteurs to investigate these mass graves.