Civil Society Leaders Demand Transparency in FTA Negotiations

FTA Poster

New Delhi: 130+ organisations and civil society leaders expressed concerns at the lack of transparency and non-inclusive consultation processes adopted by the Union Government in the negotiations for entering into free trade, comprehensive economic partnership or investment related agreements. In an open letter to the Govt of India on Tuesday, they referred to the ongoing negotiations with several countries, including the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Israel and the European Union.

Prominent among the signatories are, Jawhar Sircar, Member of Parliament; Shailesh Gandhi, former Chief Information Commissioner; Madhu Bhaduri, former Ambassador; Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan; Annie Raja, National Federation of Indian Women; Teesta Setalvad, Social Activist; Gautam Mody, NTUI; Viju Krishnan, All India Kisan Sabha; Prafulla Samantara and Meera Sanghamitra, National Alliance of People’s Movements; Nikhil Dey, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan; Navsharan Singh, Researcher; Kavita Krishnan, Feminist activist and author; Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group; Cedric Prakash, Human Rights and Peace Activist; Devaki Jain, Feminist Economist; Dinesh Abrol, former Prof JNU; M.G. Devasahaym, former civil servant and Sharad Behar, former Chief Secretary, Govt of Madhya Pradesh and several others.

The open letter is significant in the context of the fifth round of negotiations between India and European Union, currently ongoing in Brussels. India and the 27-nation bloc resumed negotiations in June 2022, after a gap of over eight years on the proposed agreements on trade and investments. The EU is India’s third largest trading partner, accounting for €88 billion worth of trade in goods in 2021 or 10.8% of total Indian trade. India is the EU’s 10th largest trading partner, accounting for 2.1% of EU total trade in goods.

Looking at the possible fallout of a non-transparent process, the open letter said, “This non-consultative and exclusionary process signals a disregard for the questions of human rights, social justice and environmental impacts that wider stakeholder involvement would put on the table.” It also said that the Parliament must therefore deliberate on the implications of the proposed legislative changes for the lives, livelihoods and well-being of all citizens, particularly the most vulnerable groups.

The full statement with the complete list of signatories:

Open Letter to the Government of India

WE, CITIZENS OF INDIA AND REPRESENTATIVES OF ORGANISATIONS named below, are deeply concerned at and anguished by the lack of transparency and non-inclusive consultation processes adopted by the Union Government in the negotiations with a several countries such as the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Israel and the European Union for entering into free trade, comprehensive economic partnership or investment related agreements. Despite its twin promises of greater openness in government and cooperative federalism, the NDA Government continues to pursue opaque and limited consultation processes that characterised similar free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with other countries under previous regimes.

Even as we express our concerns on the subject, the European Commission (EC) is holding consultations and dialogues with civil society stakeholders in the EU member-states on the social impact assessment (SIA) of the proposed FTA with India. Meanwhile, we in India, are expected to be satisfied with an occasional tweet on the progress of the negotiations and brief press notes from the Commerce Ministry about the visit of high-level delegations. The rare statements made by the Commerce Minister or the Foreign Minister are aimed at captains of business and industry and the foreign media. The millions of farmers, workers, artisans, fisherfolk, small businesses, gig workers, home-based workers and others who will be affected by these FTAs are completely invisible in these communications.

In addition to its failure to proactively engage and share information with different stakeholders, the Union Government is also rejecting formal requests for even basic details about such matters. For example, an application submitted under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) seeking information about the agenda and the minutes of ministerial meetings with visiting EU delegations, representations received from business and trade representatives seeking to influence India’s position in the trade talks has been rejected by the Commerce Ministry on grounds of national security and trade secrets (see Annexure-1 and 2 for the text of the RTI application and the Ministry’s replies).

The Union Government’s rejection of even formal requests for information flies in the face of the mandate of the RTI Act for meaningful transparency in governance and stands in sharp contrast to the EC’s openness vis-a-vis its own stakeholders. Substantive reports of the four rounds of negotiations completed and the textual proposals submitted to the Government of India are all available on the website of the European Commission, for any person anywhere on the planet to access free of charge. What the EU is proposing for inclusion in the FTA on more than 20 topics such as trade in goods, services and investment, government procurement, intellectual property, sustainable food systems, small and medium-sized enterprises, digital trade, capital movements and state-owned enterprises are all publicly available on this website. The EU has even presented a textual proposal for both voluntary publication of information and responding to formal enquiries from persons about matters covered by the FTA. Unfortunately, there is no official intimation on this side of the Mediterranean about India’s response to the EU’s proposals or its own textual proposals about these matters. Maintaining opacity about India’s position on matters of immense public interest and importance can unfortunately give rise to serious suspicion as to whether the Government is being nose-led in the course of these talks.

Of particular concern to us is also the absence of an obligation on the Union Government to consult with Parliament on FTA-related matters. The Constitutional scheme of division of powers grants the Union Government a monopoly over matters relating to bilateral and multi-lateral treaties, including FTAs. Parliamentary approval post facto is also not mandated by the Constitution because the power of ratification also vests with the Executive i.e., the Union Government. However, the FTAs could result in the amendment or even scrapping of several Central legislations that are firmly in the domain of Parliament. Parliament must therefore deliberate on the implications of the proposed legislative changes for the lives, livelihoods and well-being of all citizens, particularly the most vulnerable groups.

The Commerce Ministry’s reply to one of the RTI queries states that it is holding consultations only with Industry Associations and relevant Ministries and Departments. This does not inspire much confidence. It is a matter of grave concern that State governments have not been consulted, despite the fact that FTAs cover subjects under the State List and the Concurrent List. The Union Government has also not opened up the consultation process to farmers’ associations, labour unions, environmental rights and human rights groups, consumer associations and many others who are legitimate and critically important stakeholders.

This non-consultative and exclusionary process signals a disregard for the questions of human rights, social justice and environmental impacts that wider stakeholder involvement would put on the table. We are concerned that ignoring these concerns at this stage will also undermine or short-circuit mandatory processes of environmental and social impact assessment.

On the other hand, we note that the EU has initiated consultations with civil society stakeholders to ascertain their views about the areas covered by the proposed FTA with India.

Given this starkly visible imbalance in the practice of transparency and inclusive consultation processes adopted by the negotiating partners, we demand that the Government of India immediately take the following steps.

1.         Give wide publicity and provide open access to proposals submitted to the EU by Government of India, as well as the responses to the textual proposals tabled by the EU which are publicly available.

  1. Give wide publicity and public access to the textual proposals received and responses submitted to other trading partners with whom FTA talks are going
  2. Create forums and platforms for public stakeholders and experts including civil society, academia and media representatives to submit their views on ongoing FTA negotiations with the EU and other
  3. Ensure effective public participation in the negotiations by providing timely and comprehensive information on the status and details of the negotiations and holding dialogues and consultations with public stakeholders in India at each stage so that the negotiations are informed by the views and aspirations of all

List of Signatories:

  Name Profession/Affiliation City
1. Aasin Khan Social Activist Alwar Rajasthan
2. Abirami Raveendran Unite London
3. Adv Dr Shalu Nigam Lawyer Delhi NCR
4. Ajaykumar VB Equitives Foundation Trivandrum
5. Albertina de J. P. Almeida Advocate Panaji, Goa.
6. Amani Student Delhi
7. Amita Joseph Advocate Delhi
8. Amitava Choudhury RTI Activist Kolkata
9. Anand Athialy Student Pune
10. Anantharamakrishnan Senthivel Assistant Professor of Criminology and

Criminal Justice Administration

11. Anasuya Chandy Teacher Madanapalle
12. Anil Chawla Retired Army officer Delhi
13. Anita Cheria Open Space Bangalore
14. Anita Kapoor Social worker New Delhi
15. Annie Raja G. Sec., National Federation of Indian Women New Delhi
16. Anuradha Development Professional Bangalore
17. Anuradha Banerji Saheli Women’s Resource Centre Delhi
18. Ardhendu Sen retired govt servant coimbatore
19. Arun Kumar Retd Professor Gurgaon
20. Arun Mohan Media Collective New Delhi
21. Aruna Rathnam none Chennai
22. Arundhati Dhuru NAPM Lucknow
23. Ashalatha S MAKAAM Hyderabad
24. Ashok Maridas Samvidhaanada Haadiyalli Bangalore
25. Ashok Shrimali Social Activist Ahmedabad
26. Avinash Kumar Researcher New Delhi
27. Beena Pallical Independent Activist New Delhi
28. Benny Kuruvilla Focus on the Global South -India Delhi
29. Brinda Adige Activist Bengaluru



Brinelle D’souza

Chairperson, Centre for Health and Mental, School of Social Work Health, Tata Institute of

Social Sciences



31. Cedric Prakash Human Rights and Peace Activist/Writer Ahmedabad
32. Chinmayi Naik Working Peoples’Coalition Bangalore
33. D Gopalakrishna Socialist Party, India Bangalore
34. Dev Desai ANHAD Ahmedabad
35. Devaki Jain Feminist economist New Delhi
36. Devidas Tuljapurkar AIBEA Trade Union Mumbai
37. Dhirendra Panda Social Work Bhubaneswar
38. Dimple Oberoi Vahali Independent activist Delhi
39. Dinesh Abrol Academic JNU TRCSS Delhi
40. Divya Working Bhopal
41. Divyansh Khurana Lawyer Delhi
42. Dolphy Dsouza The Bombay Catholic Sabha Mumbai
43. Dorothy Fernandes Social Action Patna


44. Dr. Sanjay Mangala Gopal National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements


45. Eric Pinto Nayional Alluance of Peoples Movement NAPM Goa
46. Gautam Bandyopadhyay Nadi Ghati Morcha-India Raipur
47. Gautam Mody NTUI New Delhi
48. Geetha Devarajan Advocate Chennai
49. Govind Kelkar Professor and Executive Director Gurgaon
50. Henri Tiphagne People’s Watch and Human Rights Defenders

Alert India

51. Inamul Social Activist Chennai
52. Isha Khandelwal Lawyer Bombay
53. Janakarajan S Professor, MIDS (Retd) Chennai
54. Jawhar Sircar Member of Parliament TMC Kolkata
55. Joe Athialy Centre for Financial Accountability New Delhi
56. Jomon Cheriyan James Skiltrainer Kottayam
57. K. V. Bhat Trade unionist. AITUC/JCTU Bangalore
58. Kalyani Menon Sen Independent researcher Coimbatore
59. Kamayani Bali Mahabal Independent Trainer Mumbai
60. Kameshwari Jandhyala Independent consultant Hyderabad
61. [email protected] Business Bengaluru
62. Kavita Krishnan Feminist activist and author New Delhi
63. Krishna Sharma Lawyer New Delhi
64. Kurien Retiree Bangalore
65. L Krishnamurthy Ex RTI Commissioner Bangalore rural
66. Lara Jesani People’s Union for Civil Liberties Mumbai
67. Leena Social work activist Ranchi
68. Leo Saldanha Environment Support Group Bangalore
69. Linda Chhakchhuak Concerned Citizen Shillong
70. M G Devasahayam People First Bangalore
71. Madhu Bhaduri Retired government official Delhi
72. Mandar Prakhar Student Varanasi
73. Manshi Asher Independent Researcher Palampur
74. Mecanzy Dabre National Hawkers Federation Mumbai
75. Medha Patkar Narmada Bachao Andolan / NAPM Badwani
76. Meera Sanghamitra National Alliance of People’s Movements


77. Mohammad Chappalwala Sambhaavnaa Institute Palampur
78. Mona Mishra Independent Researcher Delhi
79. N Sai Balaji National President, All India Students’ Association (AISA) Delhi
80. Narendra Gupta JSAR Chittorgarh
81. Narendra Mohanty Activist, State Convener, INSAF & Campaign Against Fabricated Cases, Odisha. Bhubaneswar
82. National Hawker Federation 1300 Association Kolkata
83. Navsharan Singh Independent Researcher Delhi
84. Nikhil Dey Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan ( MKSS) Rajsamand
85. Nisha Biswas Activists Kolkata
86. P.R.Dasgupta Member of CCG Bangalore
87. P.Vijayakumar Teacher (retired.) Madurai
88. Pamela Philipose Independent journalist New Delhi


89. Panchaksharam.K Founder / SIPA Fair Trade Chennai
90. Persis Ginwalla Independent Ahmedabad
91. Prafulla Samantara National Alliance Of People’s Movements of India Bhubaneswar
92. Prasad Chacko Independent Consultant Ahmedabad
93. Praskanva Sinharay Centre for Financial Accountability New Delhi



Prof Ritu Dewan

Director & Professor (R), Mumbai school of

Economics & Public Policy, University of Mumbai



95. Pushkar Raj Independent Researcher Melbourne
96. R. Manohar HRDA India Bangalore
97. R.Ravi & Ashok Shrimali mines minarals & People Vishakhapatnam
98. Rachel Andrews Student Mumbai
99. Rajendra Ravi NAPM, Delhi Delhi
100. Rakesh Diwan Editor, Sarvodaya Press Service Bhopal
101. Rakhi Sehgal Independent Researcher New Delhi
102. Ram Wangkheirakpam Indigenous Perspectives Imphal
103. Ramesh G None Hyderabad
104. Ravindra Sinha Researcher Pune
105. Ritumbra Manuvie University of Groningen Groningen
106. Rohit Prajapati Environment Activist Vadodara
107. Runu Independent activist and freelance professional Gaziabad
108. S.Krishnaswamy (Retired Professor) PUCL Madurai Madurai
109. Sagari R Ramdas Veterinary Scientist , Food Sovereignty


110. Samuel Asir Raj Teaching Tirunelveli
111. sandhya gokhale PUCL, Maharashtra mumbai
112. Satyarupa Shekhar Citizen Cuttack
113. Shailesh Gandhi Former Central Information Commissioner Mumbai
114. Shankar V AICCTU Bangalore
115. Sharad Behar Retired civil servant BHOPAL
116. Shilpan Concerned Indian San Francisco, CA,


117. Sudhir Vombatkere NAPM Mysuru
118. Sujata Patel Retd. Teacher, University of Hyderabad Pune
119. Sukumaran Krishnan Lawyer Gudalur The


120. Tara Murali Individual Chennai
121. Teesta Setalvad Journalist, Human Rights Defender &


122. Tejas Tinjan Law student Faridabad
123. Uma Shankari Farmer, citizen of India Hyderabad
124. V.Samarth Rao Law student New Delhi
125. Vasundhar Citizen Mysore
126. Veena Shatrugna Independent Researcher Bengaluru
127. Vidya Dinker Indian Social Action Forum Mangalore
128. Venkatesh Nayak Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative New Delhi
129. Vijayasingh Ronald David Community organiser Kushalnagara
130. Vijoo Krishnan General Secretary, All India Kisan Sabha New Delhi


131. Vineet Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan Rajsamand,


132. Vinita Balekundri Maharashtra Hawkers Federation Navi Mumbai
133. Vinod Koshy Dynamic Action Thiruvalla
134. Vivekanand Tripathi Social Activist Noida
135. Wilfred Dcosta Indian Social Action Forum New Delhi
136. Yashaswini Krishna Student pursing master’s in mass

communication and media

137. Yashika Manav Dehli Girls Rising – National Confederation of

Dalit and Adivasi Organisations (NACDAOR)

New Delhi
138. डॉ.सुगन बरंठ सर्वोदय काययकर्ाय मालेगांर्व (नाससक)



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