Heinrich Böll Stiftung India with partners at the Asia Europe People’s Forum

December 7, 2010
By Shalini Yog

From October 2nd to 5th 2010, Heinrich Böll Foundation Delhi joined its partner Women in Development Europe (WIDE) to participate in Asia Europe People’s Forum (AEPF). This 8th AEPF is a civil society forum, held in Brussels parallel to the official Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) in which heads of States and Governments from across Europe and Asia meet to discuss their interests and plans. AEPF was initiated in 1996 in Bangkok, in reaction to the first ASEM Summit. It strives to advance people’s voice in shaping Asia Europe relations and questions the neo-liberal ASEM agenda on grounds of citizen’s rights, economic, social, political and environmental justice.

The title of the 8th AEPF “Challenging Corporate Power, Building States of Citizens for Citizens” was appropriate, as more than 600 civil society organizations, parliamentarians, and social movements from across Asia and Europe came together to protest the lack of democratic accountability in bi-regional relations between EU and Asian Governments and spoke of the preferential leveraging of Corporate interests in official mandates. The approach towards economic integration based on an aggressive neo-liberal ideology was challenged and many calls were staged in front of strategic locations like the European Commission as a part of the AEPF activities.

View a glimpse of the public action against the Trade Agreements that deprives the world community of cheaper generic medicines: 

India is known to be the pharmacy of the developing world, producing 90% of the AIDS/HIV drugs for the third world. Stricter intellectual property regulations in the EU-India FTA would threaten this availability of affordable, cheap medicine and put millions of patients at risk.

The events at AEPF demanded inclusive alternatives (decent livelihoods and a halt to the free trade and investment treaties) to the multiple crises that confront us (climate/environmental crises, food insecurity and poverty).

Heinrich Böll Foundation (hbs) Delhi widely participated in the discussions and events relating to bilateral trade of the EU with countries of Asia that progress the 2006 EU adopted trade strategy “Global Europe- competing in the world”. This document has a mandate to de-regulate, privatize, and benefit EU companies with access to Asian markets and raw materials. Together with European NGOs and WIDE, hbs India contributed in the organization of a workshop on “EU-Asian Free Trade Agreements: Resistance and Alternatives”.

Negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and EU are making rapid progress with many a text seeing likely completion in the run-up to EU-India Summit in December 2010. Speaking in the workshop on Trade and Investment, Ranja Sengupta (Senior Researcher, Third World Network) presented the findings of a hbs Centad research study on the potential impacts of the FTA on Indian agriculture, women’s health and services. She said “the continuation of European subsidies and high non tariff barriers on agricultural products while EU’s insistence on reduction of tariffs from India makes agricultural negotiations very unequal with serious impact on small farmers, women and indigenous people in India. The investment provisions are also very widespread with strong investor protection, which could affect not only access to critical resources and services for India’s large poor and vulnerable, but could significantly restrict the government’s policy space. At the same time, TRIPS plus IPRs could adversely affect everyone’s access to critical medicines, women’s more so.” View Ranja’s presentation at the AEPF, Free Trade Agreements in South Asia and the Development Question the Role of North-South FTAs.

Indian and civil society at the AEPF issued a statement against the ongoing FTA negotiations: “Last chance to prevent onslaught on people’s rights and livelihoods! Call for an immediate halt to the India–EU trade negotiations

Priti Darooka, executive Director of Programme on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural rights (PWESCR) agreed, that the FTA would impinge upon many of the Indian governments domestic policies that aid employment and uphold worker’s rights. She said “The Indian government promises to provide universal basic rights including the right to food, education, health, social security and work, and yet we have a free trade agreement with which the EU will deny people, especially women, precisely these same rights. It is like the right hand gives but the left snatches it away.”

Christa Wichterich, senior analyst of WIDE and consultant to hbs India, debated the Asia-Europe relations together with Walden Bello, Praful Bidwai, Nicola and Marica Frangak.

Introduced at the AEPF was a discussion on an Alternative Trade Mandate (ATM) for EU, which is an outcome of people’s need for an alternative to neo-liberal trade and investment regime. It would be interesting to take note of this process being driven by European CSOs and provide feedback on the text.

On the last day of the AEPF, a debate “Beyond Free trade: Alternatives for EU-Asia relations?” was hosted in the EU parliament. From the members of parliament discussants were Ska Keller (Greens/EFA), Joe Higgins (GUE/NGL), Yannick Jadot (Greens/EFA) and Helmut Scholz (Die Linke).

“It is clear that FTAs are not in the interests of workers and the poor, that they serve the needs of big business in Asia and Europe” said MEP Joe Higgins. “The recent general strike in India shows that people power represents the only way to protect rights from an aggressive big business agenda. Our solidarity is with the unions and workers that are fighting for trade in the interests of people and the environment not corporate profit.” He went on to question the wisdom of further economic integration for India given the state of the European financial system.

The session in the parliament was the last in the series of debates that took place at the Forum. A paper of recommendations emerged which was submitted to State Heads via the ASEM summit.

The next AEPF is scheduled for 2012.

This report first appeared on boell-india.org.