Echoing concerns by Indian diaspora, official report finds the EU-India Trade Agreement would have negative effect on rights

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On 28 February 2024, the European Commission published the conclusions of a trade and sustainability impact assessment that it commissioned to examine the potential negative impacts of a planned EU-India Free Trade Agreement. The assessment finds serious human rights concerns associated with the agreement, including for religious minorities in India, leading human rights organisations and progressive Indian diaspora to sound the alarm bells. 

The assessment concludes: “Due to a serious pre-existing vulnerability regarding multiple issues related to human and labour rights […] the potential of the FTA/IPA is not likely to be used to the full, but only to a limited extent, or not at all.” The impact assessment also notes that the deteriorating human rights situation in India and shrinking civic space make it impossible to implement the FTA to benefit all.  

Notably, the impact assessment finds that the trade agreement would have a negative impact on religious minorities, a group that is currently particularly vulnerable to human rights violations due to the Hindu supremacist ideology the Indian government has enshrined in law. The assessment notes the prevalence of demolitions of Muslim homes and businesses, and concludes that there would be a “major” impact “at sector level” on the right to adequate standard of living if the trade agreement was concluded. Additionally, it finds that the trade agreement would have a minor, but direct, impact on religious minorities’ freedom from slavery and forced labour and freedom from discrimination more broadly, as they might be pushed into further precarious labour. 

The conclusions of the impact assessment affirm the concerns that human rights organisations and progressive Indian diaspora have expressed over the past years. Foundation The London Story (TLS), an Indian diaspora-led organisation based in the Netherlands, had been engaging closely with EU decision-makers throughout the negotiations process.

The EU and India are mutually bound by their commitments to human rights law. They must now urgently take steps to ensure that their future agreement does not violate the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable – especially since the trade agreement should benefit especially them and bring them development.

– Dr Ritumbra Manuvie, Executive Director of Foundation The London Story

The researchers closely engaged with civil society, taking their concerns seriously, and the final conclusions went through several rounds of iteration. TLS submitted two dossiers, participated in the civil society consultations organised by the EU, and provided extensive feedback on the draft report, and is satisfied to see that the final assessment reflects the most serious human rights concerns. Based on evidence submitted by TLS, the impact assessment in several places explicitly discusses, for instance, the use of terror legislation against human rights defenders (Annex page 217), demolitions of the homes of religious minorities (Annex page 237), the risks associated with extractive activities in conflict zones, such as of lithium in Jammu and Kashmir (Annex page 237), and weaking of labour laws in Uttar Pradesh state (Annex page 251). 

To ensure that these human rights concerns are mitigated, TLS, diaspora organisations and Indian civil society put forward recommendations in the form of an EU-India People’s Recommendation. These recommendations were communicated to the negotiating team of the EU and the independent researchers conducting the impact assessment. The diaspora organisation also submitted a dossier with concrete recommendations to the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, which in September 2023 examined first evidence of human rights impacts of the trade agreement. The diaspora’s recommendations include establishing civil society monitoring mechanisms, as well as binding human rights requirements. The impact assessment echoes many of these recommendations, calling on the negotiators to agree on a binding human rights clause, to be monitored by a domestic advisory group. The negotiators of both sides should now meaningfully and sufficiently consider these recommendations, to ensure that the trade agreement benefits all people. 

TLS and diaspora organisations have expressed concern that the serious human rights implications may be brushed aside, including in a joint statement. The EU and India recently concluded the seventh round of negotiations on the agreement, which were held in Delhi on February 19, but discussions on human rights and sustainability have fallen short. TLS reported that during a Civil Society Dialogue with the Directorate General for Trade, they asked whether the Commission would “sideline human rights for the sake of concluding the negotiations”. According to the official meeting records, the official present responded: “India is a very big player, and hence, without compromising our values, we need to engage with countries in any event” (emphasis added). Civil society therefore fears that the EU and India may both be willing to sideline human rights considerations if the negotiations would stall over these issues.

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