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Manmohan govt throws in the towel, developed world cheers
By Devinder Sharma

As the new government of India buckles under US pressure, WTO Doha Round looks set to be concluded as per the dictates of the OECD

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'.

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

Devinder Sharma  |  Food and trade policy analyst, columnist and activists' guide  |  hunger55@gmail.com

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.

Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

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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