Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma with US trade representative Ron Kirk
I wasn't wrong. When I wrote a few days back that Kamal Nath was shifted from Trade and Commerce under pressure from the United States and the WTO, I could see where we were heading. The new Commerce Minister Anand Sharma has spilled the beans even before he could learn to handle the intricacies of global trade and diplomacy. A few days back, before he left for the US, he told Reuters that the impasse between US-India on farm trade has been broken. And today's Times of India carries a report from Washington in which he is believed to have indicated that India may dilute its stand on market access for foreign products in an effort to breathe new life into the Doha Round.
Anand Sharma is merely doing what he has been asked to do.
As early as in March 2007, I had warned that India had taken a U-turn in its position and was actually looking for a face-saver. What Kamal Nath had done in the last two years was to actually hold on and give an impression that India was not caving in. He did it deftly, and with a media which looks for exciting sound bytes he was able to get away. Brick by brick, India's position on agriculture had been diluted.
I would like Anand Sharma to tell the nation as to what would be the gain for India from the Agreement on Agriculture that has almost been concluded under the Doha Round of negotiations. You will be not only surprised but shocked to know that India actually does not even know as to what would be the gains and losses from the farm agreement.
When Anand Sharma said that he is willing to provide more market access, what probably we don't realise is that India has already gone in for an autonomous liberalisation and has opened up its market. This happened in Mar 2008 when George Bush wanted India to open up, before the US could reciprocate. The import tariffs for the most important farm commodities have already been brought down to zero. Wheat import tariff is zero, rice is at zero, maize is at zero, pulses is at zero, edible oils is practically zero (or 7.5 per cent as the case may be for some categories), what further reduction do we expect now.
India opened up, but the US did not reciprocate. The US in fact approved the US Farm Bill 2008 that makes a provision for an additional farm subsidy of $ 307 billion for the next five year.
What equally disappoints me is the bystander role the negotiators of the developing countries played all along. I have always said that the real culprits are the developing country negotiators who are keener to stay put in Geneva and enjoy the perks they are being endowed with by their respective governments. This is a chance of their lifetime and they are not willing to forgo it at any cost. If WTO fails, they will have to return back. They don't want to take that risk. And who is bothered as to what happens to food security and the livelihoods of the farming communities back home? What a shame!
Nevertheless, the few remaining hurdles before the upcoming 7th WTO Ministerial in November this year are being cleared expeditiously. With new Indian government throwing in the towel, I think the resistance that came from the developing countries to an unjust and unequal multi-lateral trade regime would also come to an end. The rich and industrialised countries will now say it louder, 'the world must do, what we tell them to do'.
Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. After completing M.Sc. in Plant Breeding and Genetics, he started his career as a journalist. A decade later, he quit active journalism to research on policy issues concerning hunger and food security, biodiversity, genetic engineering and IPRs. He writes and speaks extensively on these issues and has written more than 10,000 articles till date.