In a recent comment, the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi expressed grave concerns on the outcome of a little known Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that the Indian government is hastily attempting to sign with the the European Union. His concern was that the impact of this proposed EU FTA on the domestic dairy and animal husbandry industry in India would be debilitating if cheap European dairy products supported heavily by EU subsidies get inroads to Indian consumers. His fears are not unfounded. Indeed, if top European multinational dairy brands like Lactalis, Friesland Campina or Arla Foods with turnovers of $12.7 billion, $11.2 billion and $8.7 billion respectively get access to the Indian market on the backs of zero or minimal import duties, India’s biggest dairy brand Amul (Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation) providing livelihood to more than 1.5 crore dairy farmers in rural India might not survive for long. True, Nestle, one of the world’s biggest food products companies, has definitive footholds in India – but Nestle India has entered India through the FDI route than the FTA route, it purchases products significantly produced within India, provides massive employment in and around production plants built in India, even though its holding company is the Nestle S.A. Of course, Nestle too would be advantaged by the proposed EU-India FTA, but it’s a different ballgame when EU-government subsidised products are imported directly from Europe with little entry barriers. Digest this figure. In February this year, the EU 2014-20 budget was announced. Of the 960 billion euros budget, a mammoth 38%, or 363 billion euros, was allocated purely for farm subsidies, which will without doubt make EU farm and dairy products ridiculously cheap compared to Indian products which any way suffer from massive cost additions due to various infrastructure issues. If these are the things to come, then the so-called ‘Free’ Trade Agreement could well turn out to be our costliest trade agreement.

The EU-India FTA discussions caught steam back in 2008. However, because of the sensitivity of the issue, the progress had been shrouded in utmost secrecy with little or no data available. Of late, the discussions progressed more, so much so that the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, even came out with a surprisingly strong statement in July 2013, “We have entered into Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements with the ASEAN countries as well as the Republic of Korea. We are hoping to conclude a similar agreement with the European Union soon”. Most political parties are silent on the issue despite the fact that the implication of such an agreement is enormous. An FTA generally means the lifting of trade barriers and an unhindered flow of goods and services with minimum import duties, intellectual property rights, government procurement, and competition policies between the nations bound by the agreement. So, if the EU-India FTA gets signed, then one could well imagine world class corporations like IKEA and Carrefour competing with domestic brands at prices that are cheaper than those of domestic products! Can our indigenous brands compete with these behemoths? Since any FTA encourages direct imports, it is not a natural builder of employment, rather a reducer of the same, as over time, domestic industries shut down giving way to cheaper imports. Thus, it is ridiculous to tom tom the point that FTAs eliminate poverty and help the destitute with a better living; they clearly don’t do that.  Read More....

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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In the first week of January 2010, most newspapers carried a stunning report. And the report was based on data from the Central Statistical Organisation, which revealed that Bihar has clocked the second highest growth rate in the country, only second to Gujarat, between the period 2004/05 and 2008/09. Although in the same period, most of the backward states have shown a reasonably decent growth rate, but none could match up to Bihar. And what is even more remarkable is the manner in which the state has turned around. It was only in 2003/04 that it had shown a (de)growth of a negative 5.15%. Five years hence, the state has an aggregated growth of 11.03%, beating all conventions.

Initially, analysts were skeptical about the data, but once it was reported that the data had been released by CSO – a central government agency – all doubts were put to rest. What is more interesting is the fact that most of the growth has taken under Nitish Kumar’s regime – which also proves that howsoever poor a state might be, finally it all depends on an able leader whether a transformation can occur. And all credit should go to Nitish Kumar for his intent and a proper follow-through with governance. It is not just Bihar – the same can be said with respect to Uttarakhand, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, as these states have clocked growth rates of 9.31%, 8.74%, 8.45% and 7.35% respectively for the same period, beating the conventional growth rates that had been seen over the years. What is even more intriguing and creditworthy is that of these states, four states – namely Bihar, Uttarakhand, Orissa and Jharkhand – have beaten the national growth rate of 8.45% during the same period!

But then, without taking away any credit from these states, there are a few issues that should also be taken into perspective for a more balanced evaluation. Though on the face of it, Bihar has stood second nationally, and next to Gujarat, but the fact is that the state has a long way to go to even get close to Gujarat in real terms. As we all know, growth rates are always relative. And in absolute terms, the growth of these states is nowhere close to that of Gujarat or a Maharashtra. States like Bihar, Jharkhand were growing on a very low base of historically languishing state GDP, whereas states like Gujarat and Maharashtra are already on a much larger base. Therefore, if states like Bihar, Orissa et al have to catch up and earn any kind of parity with other progressive states, then they have to grow even faster than the latter. Other than this, a high growth rate also does not guarantee that the growth is uniform – encompassing all sections across the state. A case in point has been Madhu Koda’s government. We all know the level of corruption that states like Jharkhand have been subjected to in the past few years. Indications now also are very clear that the so called growth rates have actually not touched upon the masses in these states – and this is not good news at all. As this means that the income disparity has grown not only at the national level, but to a large extent at the states’ level too. Along with all this, we also know that these newly praised states are also the states which are subjected to the maximum number of Naxal atrocities, which is also an indicator that though apparently the states have scored well on growth, the masses still remain disconnected. I’ve written about this a number of times earlier and would like to reiterate here that Naxalism has a deep connect with poverty. Over the years, Naxalites have prospered only in those states where poverty has been deep-rooted; and that’s why we don’t hear about the Naxal menace in Gujarat, even though we hear about the same in Maharashtra (because there are poor pockets in Maharashtra where Naxals thrive).     Read More....

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