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WTO rejoices over Kamal Nath's exit from Commerce Ministry
By Devinder Sharma

By removing Kamal Nath from WTO negotiations, Manmohan Singh has cleared the path of US & EU negotiators to conclude the Doha Round as per their liking.

India's former commerce minister Kamal Nath with WTO Secretary General Pascal Lamy

Geneva heaves a sigh of relief. With Kamal Nath moved out of the Commerce Ministry, the probability of concluding the contentious Doha Development Round of the WTO appears much brighter. Not that Kamal Nath was un-necessarily throwing spanners but his strong grip over the trade negotiations helped India to resist bullying and arm-twisting by the big boys of international trade.

WTO chief Pascal Lamy would remain eternally grateful to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for shifting Kamal Nath to a lesser important Ministry of Surface Transport. I am not sure whether Manmohan Singh exchanged the portfolio deliberately or under pressure but the facts remains that the WTO was keenly following the Indian elections, and their interest was more about the political future of Kamal Nath than anything else.

Kamal Nath managed to retain his seat, but was divested of this important portfolio.

Only a few months back when Madhya Pradesh went for assembly elections, Geneva was keeping a close watch on the outcome. You will say what interest the WTO has got in Madhya Pradesh assembly elections. Well, Pascal Lamy was expecting anti-incumbency to drive out the BJP government, and in that case there was a likelihood of Kamal Nath taking over as the Chief Minister. Kamal Nath belongs to Madhya Pradesh in central India.

But that did not happen. WTO was surely disappointed.

Speaking recently in Oman, before the formation of the Indian Cabinet, Pascal Lamy, had reportedly said now that the Indian general elections are over, India and the United States should hold bilateral talks to resolve their differences over agriculture and NAMA issues, and enable the Doha negotiations to conclude. If only Lamy had known that Kamal Nath would not be the Trade and Commerce Minister, I am sure he would have been more confident about the Doha Round finally coming to a conclusion in 2009.

The 7th WTO Ministerial is planned from November 30 to December 2 in Hong Kong.

Kamal Nath has been an eye sore not only for Pascal Lamy, but also for the United States and European Union. They had been wanting his removal for quite sometime. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wasn't very happy with Kamal Nath because he did not blindly follow the Prime Minister's directive. I am aware that Kamal Nath has stood his ground a number of times despite Manmohan wanting him to accept the deal. Remember the failure of the WTO latest round of talks in August 2008. Kamal Nath was aware that George Bush had called up Manmohan Singh thrice and yet he didn't give an impression as if he was buckling under pressure.

This had obviously annoyed the Prime Minister. So much so, that there were rumours that Kamal Nath may be replaced by the deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a more pliable economist.

With Anand Sharma sworn-in as the new Commerce Minister, it will be relatively easy now to push for an early completion of the Doha Round. Knowing the interest of the ruling UPA government, India will try its best to compromise on agriculture and NAMA, and bend backwards to appease the US/EU. I agree it may not be as easy and simple as what I have said, but let there be no doubt that the previous government has been more than keen to conclude the Doha agreement. It will be much easier to do so now.

Unless, of course the civil society, more importantly the farmers movements, wake up to the severe threat looming ahead. After all, the WTO is a life and death issue for the 600 million farmers of India.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

Write to the Author  |  Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

 Other Articles by Devinder Sharma in
Global Development  > Global Economy > WTO and Globalisation

Global image, not poor farmers, is India's concern
Friday, September 04, 2009

Lately, Indian negotiators in WTO have become extremely accommodating to the interests of the rich and industrialised world, even to the extent of sacrificing livelihood security of its crores of poor farmers.

US moving towards patenting our Holy Cow
Sunday, April 26, 2009

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Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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