People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIII

No. 35

August 30, 2009

AIKS Flays Abject Surrender about WTO Negotiations

 

THE country is reeling under the worst drought in over two decades, and it has exacerbated the miseries of the people who have already been hit hard by the agrarian crisis as well as the global recession. The debilitating impact of the operation of the neo-liberal economic policies is crystal clear before all the policy makers as well as the common man who has been at its receiving end. Yet the Congress-led UPA government continues with impunity to pursue such policies as are bound to adversely affect the livelihoods of a vast majority of the people.

This was the opinion the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) expressed through a statement issued from New Delhi by its president S Ramachandran Pillai and general secretary K Varadha Rajan on August 26.

The AIKS statement took exception to the fact that in the latest such instance, the second UPA government is striving to assure the US that it would revive and “re-energise” the flawed Doha round of WTO talks; with inexplicable haste this government has gone ahead with the plan to hold the WTO trade ministers’ meeting in Delhi on September 3-4. The AIKS said this gameplan was unveiled on the sidelines of the Cairns Group Meeting on June 9 where the Indian commerce minister had, in his first international assignment, met the US trade representative Ronald Kirk and agreed to “re-launch” the multilateral trade talks. This was followed up with his clandestine visit to the US on June 15, to meet the US commerce secretary Gary Locke, secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and Kirk. This undue haste indicated that both Anand Sharma and Kirk wanted to arrive at a bilateral compromise on Doha, though the multilateral WTO ministerial meeting is set for November 30 to December 2. The WTO trade ministers’ meeting at Delhi is the culmination of these deceptive moves behind the back of India’s parliament. The AIKS statement expressed astonishment that there has been exhibited no similar haste or urgency in dealing with the extraordinary situation arising out of the drought and the price rise, malnutrition, starvation and farmers’ suicides.

The AIKS felt the move clearly smacked of a conspiracy and is antithetical to the interests of India and other third world countries. It is clear that Indian people will lose on all fronts: from agriculture, which affects the largest section of society, to fisheries, services and industry. The powerful players like the US and the EU will corner all the benefits without giving even minimal concessions to the third world countries. It is bound to strengthen an unequal trading regime which will lead to increased vulnerability for agriculture, thereby directly leading to food insecurity and putting the livelihoods of the vast majority of our people at stake. The high subsidy regimes in the US and EU, safeguarding the interests of their own farm lobbies, will thus get perpetuated even as countries like India will have to reduce or phase out agricultural subsidies.

The statement warned that the government’s position of compromise would have far-reaching and irreversible consequences for our economy and also mean drastic reduction of industrial tariffs as well as grant of market access to foreign players in key service sectors like retail, banking, insurance etc. All barriers in the developing countries’ markets would be smashed even as protective barriers will be erected in the developed countries’ markets. The WTO proposals entirely compromise even the minimal provisions that protect our agriculture.

In the field of agriculture, according to the AIKS, farm subsidies in both the EU and US will not come down as the provisions of the current Doha texts protect these subsidies. But the language on protection of farm products (“special products”) from the developing country has been diluted beyond recognition. The UPA government had earlier deviated from India’s position in Cancun on both agriculture and non-agriculture chapters of the Doha text and, controversially, it had agreed to the July 2004 framework in Geneva on the WTO’s Doha Round. In subsequent years, the Indian government has increasingly compromised on practically all controversial elements of tariff liberalisation, protection of small-scale industries and protection of farmers. At stake in these trade negotiations are hundreds of millions of livelihoods in the farming and non-agriculture sectors that India has fought hard to preserve over the past eight years since the launch of the Doha round. 

The statement put forward the opinion that the Congress government’s undue haste in pushing this process when all responsible governments are today assessing the impact of the financial crisis and the free trade model on their economies is cause for suspicion. It emphatically said that while the government should have been busy dealing with national priorities related to the unprecedented drought, financial and food crises, it is eager to appease the US by reviving the flawed and unacceptable Doha round. The Congress government’s hurry and its total non- consultation with other political parties, experts and peasant organisations is condemnable. The AIKS said that, with our agriculture sector and jobs in distress, the need of the hour is to hold firm and ensure that we exercise our right to protect our food, agriculture and other production, and build robust farm, non-agriculture industries and services sectors. It also recalled that the government signed the Indo-ASEAN free trade agreement too without any discussion in the parliament and disregarding the objections of many states as well as peasant organisations and experts. Warning that such blatant acts of betrayal of Indian people will not go uncontested, the AIKS has demanded that peasants’ interests must not be compromised, discussions must be transparent and no commitments made without discussing all the issues involved in parliament and with peasant organisations.

This biggest organisation of the India peasantry also asked: Whose interests the UPA government is seeking to serve by facilitating the WTO deal? What is the cause of its undue haste and of the clandestine manner of arriving at decisions on important policy matters? Why this subversion of the time-tested constitutional processes and conventions associated with parliamentary democracy?

Recalling that its Kerala state unit has called for a Human Chain from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram against the India-ASEAN FTA on October 2, the AIKS urged all individuals and organisations to observe a Day of National Protest on September 3. It said all those concerned with India’s economic sovereignty and the livelihoods of millions of Indians must come out in large numbers to protest the government’s surrender to imperialist globalisation.