UK’s rush for trade deals can overlook India’s human rights abuses

It is arguable if Indian farmers protest is entirely an “internal” issue to be avoided by other states dealing with India

By Gurmukh Singh | OPINION |

UK’s Trade Secretary Liz Truss, announced “Enhanced Trade Partnership” with India. The expectation is to build on the current baseline of £23 billion to raise it to £100 billion. The Trade Secretary said, “India is the world’s biggest democracy and a nation that shares our belief in free enterprise….Deeper trading ties will create opportunities for UK businesses that were simply not there as part of the EU, and set the stage for a much closer partnership with one of the economic powerhouses of the present and future.”

Yet, there is an international obligation to ensure that trade deals are not at the expense human rights abuses. As an Indian writer put it, “While trade can be an engine for the economic growth needed to combat poverty and promote development, it can also threaten human rights in some situations.”

The UK government regards the current Indian farmers protest as an “internal” matter between the farmers and the Indian state. However, the issue has been discussed at length by prominent Indian experts to show how the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farmers, labourers and local businesses in the agricultural supply chain will be affected. The so called “Black Laws”, ostensibly intended to bring about agricultural reforms, will destroy the independence and way of life of the sons of the soil. So, it is arguable if the farmers protest is entirely an “internal” issue to be avoided by other states dealing with India.

Trade deals are important in today’s world for employing increasing populations. They are vital for our livelihoods and standard of living. International trade increases productivity massively by allowing countries to make the best use of their natural and human resources. Theoretically, all should benefit from global trade through multilateral and bilateral trade agreements provided the terms of trade are fair. International trade brings the world closer together by making countries inter-dependent. There is even a theory that international trade empowers the ordinary people against tyrants and dictators.

However, in the real world, the above theories work only with strict safeguards in place as recognised by the United Nations. The caste system in India is a sort of division of labour in a negative sense. The system has created large populations of the so-called lower castes and classes trapped by the system to work under harsh condition to enrich the middle and the upper classes. Many work from childhood to death as labourers working long hours just to be able to live. The multinational companies make billions by trading in goods made by them. International trade has not stopped authoritarian regimes, and dictators from rising to power.

Despite United Nations regulations, trade policy civil servants and ministers tend to overlook human rights abuses when striking multibillion pound trade deals. More so when the deals are with other so called “democratic” countries.

The Indian farmers and workers protest against alleged “black farm laws” started in Panjab. The protests are led quite visibly by the Sikhs. The danger is that black lists of suspected activists can also become unannounced part of trade deals. Interpol arrangements assume uniformity of legal safeguards in the membership countries. That is patently untrue. British Sikhs have historical reasons to be concerned about trade deals.


Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: Click here for more details on the author.

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



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