People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 42

October 21, 2007



India Must Remain Firm


IN the by now widely reported telephonic conversation between prime minister Manmohan Singh and president Bush, the media attention was mainly focussed on the PM’s explanation of the difficulties faced in operationalising the Indo-US nuclear deal. However, according to a Ministry of External Affairs’ statement issued in Nigeria’s Abuja, Dr Singh told president Bush that India remained committed to the successful conclusion of the Doha round (WTO negotiations) at an early date. “Trade liberalisation has contributed immensely to the growth of the world economy in the last few decades and it is our duty to the global community – like everyone else’s – to ensure that the Doha round too takes us forward on the path of removing barriers to trade”, the release quoted the PM as saying.


Reports also indicate that the PM told president Bush that the draft text in circulation could be the basis for discussions towards an agreed outcome in agriculture and industrial tariffs Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) emphasising that India was “comfortable” with most of the elements of this text, the PM said it was “a reasonable compromise between different positions of various countries.” As was true of any trade deal, it involved give and take by all and India “is ready to do its share of giving in this regard”. The prime minister has reportedly drawn the attention of president Bush that the key to success of the Doha round related to agriculture and it was important to take care of the vulnerability of 650 million people in India dependent on agriculture.


It is indeed strange that this comes on the eve of the Second IBSA summit to attend which the prime minister has travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa. All the three countries, India, Brazil and South Africa are members of the NAMA-11 group of countries which has already rejected the text of the chairman of the Doha round of negotiations on NAMA.


The NAMA-11 communiqué of July 25, 2007 presented to the Negotiating Group on Market Access stated, “the hallmark of a good text is one that has the potential to build genuine engagement, negotiation and ultimately consensus. Mr Chairman, from the point of view of the NAMA-11, and the majority of developing countries in the WTO, this text does not meet this objective” (Emphasis added). India has also been critical of the Agriculture text, as it does not concretise the specific measures it needs to protect its agriculture and leaves open the degree of market access the developed countries will offer. It is difficult to understand this sudden about turn of India’s stand on the NAMA and the Agriculture texts, as there has been no corresponding change in either the texts or the position of the developed countries.


The developing countries have already made major concessions in the earlier rounds in WTO, particularly on TRIPS and manufacturing. In the Doha round, it was accepted that the developed countries would need to make some contribution by reducing agricultural subsidies and providing greater market access. Instead, the Chairs’ texts on NAMA and Agriculture that the PM has stated now can be the basis for negotiations, puts the onus of further reduction of tariffs back on the developing countries. The NAMA text also does not address the issue of less than full reciprocity in tariff reductions, which was agreed earlier in Hong Kong in December 2005. The Chair’s proposed cuts in tariffs, which India had earlier rejected, if accepted will lead to de-industrialisation of the developing countries and have serious impact on Indian industry.


On Agriculture, the key hold-up in the Doha round has been the US. The United States has not agreed to any significant reduction in subsidies, not even to accommodate the four cotton producing countries in Africa. With the US president’s fast-track negotiating mandate having expired, the US cannot make any commitments on agriculture now. Without a corresponding commitment from the US, the agricultural negotiations make little sense. It will only lead to further unilateral concessions and jeopardise the future of India’s farmers, without any benefits in return.


The Doha round should also have considered the distress the developing countries are facing on account of the earlier rounds in WTO. The Intellectual Property Rights secured by big pharma corporates through TRIPS has led to denial of life saving medicines to millions of people in the developing countries. While the developed countries have protected their agriculture in various ways, the developing countries have been forced to drastically lower tariffs on manufactured goods, thus opening up their markets to large scale imports from developed countries. None of these issues are being reviewed; instead, the developing countries are being asked to open their markets even further.


The key reason that the Doha round is not progressing is due to the attitude of the developed countries, particularly the US, which seek further concessions from developing countries without committing anything in return. This position has been opposed by all developing countries, including the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries, the African Group countries and other countries with small and vulnerable economies. The NAMA-11 communiqué also reflects the broad understanding on this issue arrived at after numerous public consultations in India.


Given the unprecedented levels of agrarian distress in the country, any compromises or concessions on this round concerning agriculture would be disastrous for millions in India. It is therefore imperative that the broad consensus evolved among the developing countries reflected by the stand taken by the NAMA-11 group must be strictly adhered to as the only basis for further negotiations in the Doha round. India’s negotiating position must remain in accordance with what has already been stated publicly in consonance with the NAMA-11 stand. India cannot only be prepared to “giving its share” without its concerns being properly and adequately addressed. It has to be “give and take” not only “giving”.