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'India has won and Maran has lost'
Excerpts from an interview Jairam Ramesh, secretary, Economic Affairs of the Congress(I), gave T.K. Rajalakshmi:
How do you assess the outcome of the Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organisation?
My own view is that India has won. The fact that a programme of negotiations has been agreed to is itself a confidence-building measure. At a time when the global economy is in the doldrums, for 145 countries to get together and remove the stain of
Seattle and start a programme of negotiations in good faith involving some trade-off, some compromise, which is inherent in any kind of global negotiations, is a positive step. Seattle was a big setback engineered by America, and one person responsible
for that was former U.S. President Clinton who gave an ill-advised interview in which he tried to pander to the trade unionists and attempted to make a big issue of labour standards and environment. The Western NGO (non-governmental organisation) lobby,
who I call neo-protectionists, torpedoed Seattle. In the overall context, the Doha meeting is a major step forward. But as it involves 145 countries and a whole range of issues, some compromises and give-and-take had to be introduced.
India was making the point that before launching a new round of trade negotiations, credible measures should be taken to ensure that existing agreements were fully honoured. Did this stand win the necessary endorsement in the final declaration? What
have been India's gains?
India has won and Maran has lost. Many of the things we are claiming victory for are a little premature. The issue of TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) was on the cards and India contributed to the debate. But our country
went overboard on the textile policy issue. India has been a great champion for the abolition of the Multi Fibre Agreement. If we open up quotas faster, it will only help countries like China and Korea. We fought the right battle on the implementation
issue. From the point of view of developed countries, they have fulfilled the legal requirements of the agreements. A lot of the important issues require amendment to the WTO agreement itself and changes in domestic legislation. Maran gave the
impression that all this happened automatically. On implementation, he was on the right wicket. In fact, there is an OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) report on agricultural policies that shows that developed countries did not
fulfil their commitments made in the Uruguay Round. It is a controversial report. Many Europeans I interacted with disown the OECD report . By giving the feeling that there was an automaticity in implementation, Maran did not give the right impression.
He should have exclusively focussed on agriculture, which is in our interest. It is one thing to argue on the basis of emotion and rhetoric and another to argue on the basis of hard facts, which Maran and his colleagues did not do. India's position was
right on the question of amendments, but where India's position backfired was that India's concerns could not have been met without a new programme of action being launched.
The declaration contained stronger language on the subject on environment than India would have wanted. The official explanation was that it was a necessary compromise to get a commitment on the "phasing out" of export subsidies in agriculture. Do
you find this a credible argument?
The more retrograde step is that the door has been opened on environment. This is the thin end of the wedge, even though the agreement stipulates that negotiations start only in 2003 and that countries that are not signatory to multilateral agreements
are not affected by it. India, which is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, won't be affected to that extent. But it is bad economics and bad trade to have got environment into WTO discussions. Another retrograde step from the developing countries'
point of view was to bring competition on the negotiating agenda, though I would not put it in the same category as environment. Investment and competition are things that developing countries have to look at autonomously of the WTO. But environment is
in your protectionist group. To the extent that developing countries like India have been arguing that issues such as investment and competition should be best left to discussion and not negotiation, the fact that the WTO declaration commits itself to
negotiations on these aspects two years from now is something we could have done without.
Could you elaborate on some of the gains for developing countries?
The fact that there is a commitment to the phasing out of agricultural subsidies is a step forward, but it is important to recognise that even in the Uruguay Round developed countries met the legal requirements in letter but not in spirit. Going by the
framework of the declaration, it seems that a commitment of phasing out is a big game for developing countries. The tightening of the anti-dumping regime is a step forward and Robert Zoellick needs to be congratulated on this, though whether he is able
to carry the fast-track authority, or what is called the trade promotion authority, is something to be seen. The third gain is on TRIPS, as this was on the cards when Brazil and South Africa used this aggressively. The writing was clear on the wall when
America did not pursue this with Brazil in dispute settlement. Basically AIDS-related issues have focussed attention on the public health dimension of TRIPS and that is a major step forward. The industrial tariffs issue is also important though not much
attention has been focussed on this. Even after quotas are going to be dismantled, there will be tariffs in labour-intensive industries like textiles, plastics and leather and these peaks range from 35 to 50 per cent in the U.S. and Europe. Industrial
tariffs were not a part of the built-in Uruguay Round and so I am glad that industrial tariffs, or "non-agricultural" tariffs as they are now called, are on the negotiating table. On services, negotiations are already going on within the WTO and the
agreement sanctifies the negotiations on services. The least developed countries have formed a bloc to withstand the shocks of globalisation and the WTO has recognised this.