Sieta hopes that the sacred cow called “free trade” does not turn out to be a Trojan horse for India

A Scottish European Milk Board colleague sent this report written by Sieta van Keimpema Vice-President of the EMB.

Sieta writes:

At the invitation of Misereor and Anthra I travelled to India for a week in February, where accompanied by Armin Paasch of Misereor, I spoke with many milk producers and street dealers about the impact the planned free trade agreement between the EU and India will have on them.

Sieta sharing a platform with FDI Watch Campaign Organizer Dharmendra Kumar

The purpose of my trip to India was to speak with Indian milk producers about the European dairy sector and the European Milk Board. For the situation of the milk producers in India will be heavily affected if the EU is given the right to export dairy products to India duty free.

The meeting was most interesting. The problems of the Indian milk producers I met in Horsley Hills sound familiar to European ears: the price paid to producers does not cover production costs, the producers have no influence on the market, and the government is aiming to boost production. And the problems with their Holstein-Friesian cows are also the same as in Europe: mastitis and fertility problems.

In the afternoon we (Armin Paasch, Asja and Sagari of Anthra, and I) travelled at the invitation of the milk producers to one of their villages to see how the cows are milked and to visit the milk collection point. When we arrived the dairy cattle were already hitched up in the road. No milking shed is needed, the cows are simply milked in the road (not a problem, because there are practically no cars in this village).The milk is then driven to a collection point, analysed and taken the next day along with the morning milk to another village where there is a cooling tank. Here, too, the milk is re-tested before being put into the ‘big’ 1,000-litre tank.

In the village we saw the milk producers’ test results. They are paid by quality and fat content. The milk price fluctuates between 17 and 20 rupees (26 and 30 cents) a litre. Not much less than our average farm-gate price for 3.5/3.6% fat, as I found out.

There are hardly any milk co-operatives in India. Although the Indian government had encouraged co-operatives for years, after a change of government the conditions changed, whereby private dairies were given tax advantages over co-operatives. The fact that the wife of a minister owns a private dairy may have had something to do with it.

The next day at the collection point we spoke again with milk producers about their problems. They gave us a calculation of the cost of producing a litre of milk and a list of the problems they have with the Holstein-Friesian cows. These cows produce more milk than local breeds, but they do not tolerate the heat. It is expensive for the farmers to treat mastitis, and they are struggling with fertility problems.

Why don’t they buy local cattle, then, we asked? That would be better and more sustainable. The answer was simple: because they earn too little from producing milk, the farmers have to take out loans to be able to buy a cow. But loans are approved only if they buy Holstein-Friesian cows. So the milk producers have no choice. These people became utterly dependent on milk production because of previous free trade agreements.

Other countries with which free trade agreements were concluded have taken over the markets in many sectors. For instance in silk production, which in the region we visited used to be a good source of income for the local population. Following a free trade agreement this sector was taken over completely by the Chinese, producing cheap silk of poorer quality. It is the same with many products that used to be cultivated and produced in this region. The only option they still have is milk production. That explains the fear the farmers of the region have of future European exports. For millions of people with no land the loss of milk production means they will be forced to move to the towns and cities. But there have been no jobs in the urban areas for a long time, which is why millions of Indians have to beg for a living and live in the slums.

The EU officials and Commissioners claim that India is now a developed country that no longer needs to be protected by import duties. That is why India has to open up its markets to European products, they say.

The reality is different: hundreds of millions of Indians live on less than one euro a day. Only they don’t live, they survive.

Our European prosperity will cost human lives. Unfortunately “moral” does not come into the (strictly confidential) free trade agreement concept between the EU and India. I very much hope that the sacred cow that is called “free trade” does not turn out to be a Trojan horse for the Indians.




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