Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)
Tamil Nadu State Level Project Launch Meeting
Chennai, April 22, 2005
Citizen consumer & civic Action Group (CAG), Chennai – GRANITE project partner for Tamil Nadu – organised the State launch meeting of the project on the 22nd of April at the IMAGE auditorium, Chennai. The meeting was well attended by participants from all over Tamil Nadu, comprising of representatives from the government as well as NGO professionals working in the area of agriculture and textiles.
Dr. Sunder Ramaswamy, Director, Madras School of Economics inaugurated the meeting and Mr.K.Rajaraman, Additional Commissioner, Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection, Government of Tamil Nadu, delivered the chief guest address.
The main objective of the meeting was to launch GRANITE in the state of Tamil Nadu and also to bring together various stakeholders of the project on a common platform to discuss issues and challenges faced by the agriculture sector and textiles & clothing sector in the WTO regime.
Key Addresses in the Inaugural Session
Dr. Sunder Ramaswamy, Director, Madras School of Economics, in his inaugural address appreciated the spirit of the GRANITE project, to promote economic literacy by opening up new channels of communication with the people. Economics is often perceived to mean debt, foreign exchange, growth rate, inflation etc., which have technical connotations. He said that organisations and individuals should remember that the fundamental role of economics is to improve the quality of life and this should be central to the work undertaken by CAG. India is at a stage where we can no longer turn away from addressing trade issues on grounds of lack of knowledge. Globalisation is a double-edged sword and India has to work towards maximising the benefits and minimising the losses.
Mr. Rajaraman, Additional commissioner, Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection in his chief guest address, called globalisation a multi-faced animal that had to be understood by all. For the good or bad, globalisation is here to stay. It offers tremendous opportunities for growth for both the producers in terms of quality and competition and the consumers in terms of price, choice and competitive pricing. Our domestic policies should offer stronger safety nets in order to increase agricultural growth. Capacity building and technical support should be the focus of government interventions. The Indian government should become conversant with the various clauses of the WTO and make best use of the loopholes it offers for the benefit of its people. He also said that ‘The role of policy and governance should change from being an inspector to that of a facilitator’. He also stressed on the need to set-up a State Agency for International Trade & Commerce to spread literacy and create and coordinate a forum for policy inputs from all stakeholders. He appreciated and extended support to this much needed effort undertaken by CAG.
Highlights of the panel discussion on Issues & Challenges in Agriculture in Tamil Nadu
Moderator: Lawrence Surendra, Trustee, CAG
Panelists: S. Bala Ravi, Adviser, MSSRF, Chennai; Geetha Sridharan, Dept. of Economics, Stella Maris College, Chennai
- A detailed presentation on the WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) and its impact on Indian agriculture.
- Discussed the changing pattern of agriculture in the state of Tamilnadu. Land and water are becoming inelastic in supply leading to a shrink in agriculture production.
- Cropping and land use patterns have changed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Water scarcity and conversion of agricultural lands for commercial activities were stated as important reasons responsible for such a change.
- Removal of subsidies for pesticides and fertilizers would cause a lot of hardship to farmers as they would have to buy these at unaffordable market prices making agriculture expensive.
- Marketing was stated as a big draw back leading to accumulation of stocks. We need to move out of this difficulty and the state needs to pay more attention to this aspect as this is where Indian agriculture might suffer when put on an equal scale with China, for example.
- Organic farming was discussed as a sustainable method of cultivation but organic farmers also face problems of marketing. Some organic farmers wanted a separate session on organic agriculture and the WTO.
- Most of the participants expressed the need to further simplify AoA and expressed interest in holding meeting in their respective districts as a large number of farmers are not aware of these issues.
- The new Seeds Bill and its impact on Indian agriculture was also briefly discussed.
Highlights of the panel discussion on Issues & Challenges in Textiles in Tamil Nadu
Moderator: Lawrence Surendra,Trustee, CAG
Panelists: D. Narasimha Reddy, Consumer Guidance Society, Hyderabad; V. Sridhar, Special Correspondent, Frontline, Chennai
- Post quota regime, the textile sector is being restructured to benefit a select few. At the global level Agreement on Textiles & Clothing (ATC), is far more beneficial to the developed countries than it is to the developing countries.
- Though India has 60 percent of the world’s spinning capacity, 25 percent of world’s cotton cultivation and 15 percent of world’s cotton output, we still are not able to compete effectively in the international market.
- Post quota regime, the Government of India (GoI) is giving more importance to man-made fibre than to cotton fibres. GoI also views modernisation as the key to growth.
- Handloom sector is looked at as a spoke in the wheel for the development of the textile sector as production is slow and handloom producers are not open to modernisation. This is baseless and there are no studies to prove this.
- Technology Upgradation Fund is just euphemism to import second hand machinery from the western countries.
- Even with the powerloom industries there are layers of inequalities that need to be addressed.
- India should concentrate on apparels and furnishings as this may provide employment opportunities for women in large numbers.
The meeting ended on a positive note. There was a lot of enthusiasm amongst the participants many of whom volunteered their support in organising outreach meetings in their areas. One of the suggestion was to hold separate meetings for agriculture and textile & clothing, depending on the target audience for better effectiveness. Government officials present expressed their support to the project.