Editorial: Executive freedom

Parliament should not be examining FTAs

The BJP's demand that the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union be discussed in Parliament is a bad idea since this comes squarely in the domain of the executive. And no party knows this better than the BJP which, while part of the NDA, also signed FTAs without bringing them to Parliament. The reason for not bringing everything to Parliament is simple. First, Parliament's agenda is already overloaded and even existing Bills don't get passed with MPs not letting the house work on way too many occasions. Two, matters which require delicate negotiations and balancing of interests are not best addressed in Parliament. If you take just agriculture, given the likely losers and gainersódepending on where duties are raised and where they are droppedóbringing it to Parliament is likely to generate more heat than light. To put this in perspective, while agriculture was seen as a sector that needed protection some years ago, it is today globally competitive. The actual trade negotiations, it is obvious, involve more sectors than just agriculture and include industrial goods, IT and other services.

Nor is it just FTAs that the NDA signed. During the NDA regime, the government had begun the process of strategic sales and planned to divest stake in HPCL and BPCL in this manner. When this was challenged in court and the court ruled Parliament would have to be consulted in the case of PSUs set up through an Act of Parliament, the entire process of strategic sales went for a toss. We've seen, in the case of coal supplies, that while allowing private sector players will benefit the country in a big way, this cannot be done since coal nationalisation was done through an Act of Parliament. The last thing India needs, in a situation like this, is to further reduce the executive's power to take any decision.

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