After WTO, what next for India?

Monday, 9 December 2013 - 1:43pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been saved in Bali from the ignominy of being called an international trade organisation which was almost on the verge of becoming redundant. And, India must be thanked for it. This is a dramatic change in India’s position in global negotiations.

Since the formation of WTO in 1995, it had been extremely difficult for India to find a reasonably equal opportunity and loud enough voice to be heard at the WTO. This was so as big members with a lot of clout, particularly United States and the European Union tried to dominate the proceedings and have it their way but with moderate success as they were opposed by the developing countries, at times spearheaded by India. But such a centre of attraction position was never enjoyed by India.

Food is a fundamental requirement of human beings, and it is but natural that it has been one of the most contentious issues in the WTO from the very beginning. The developed world, surplus with food grains, always wanted to have free trade to facilitate the consumption of extra food grains in the developing world. However, food subsidy in any manner by the developing countries, particularly India, was hardly acceptable to the developed world. It is ironical that the same developed countries continued to subsidise their farmers, who typically were and are in a much better position than the farmers in India, to a large extent.

It is true that Indian farmers can compete very well with the farmers anywhere in the world. But Indian farmers will not be able to compete with governments in the developed world. As most Indian population still depends on agriculture, it is quite natural that the Indian government should take care of their interests and exercise its rights of being a sovereign nation. It should formulate policies in a manner which is in the interest of people of the country, particularly the poor and downtrodden.

Gone are the days when India used to depend on foreign food grains for survival. Even with its burgeoning population, to a large extent the country is self-reliant in food. However, the political leadership has to think about another green revolution, which is essential for making laws to protect rights of the citizens of India.

It is too early to talk about the success of the food security law in India. Knowing the leakages in the system, and the deeply entrenched petty corruption, it is extremely difficult to anticipate whether the actual needy persons would be able to fight for their right for food, either under the food security law, or as interpreted by the Supreme Court in one of the facets of the ‘right to life and liberty’ enshrined in the Constitution of India in article 21.

Rather than making it a political gimmick, as commonly understood for the forthcoming elections, it is desirable that the top political leadership formulates policies for improving the agricultural facilities, working to get better yield from a unit area of land, the threat of ever-expanding cities, avoidable urbanisation – which for reasons difficult to understand is being encouraged and promoted by the World Bank using wrong assumptions and doubtful data –easily accessibility to loans, power, water and effective land reforms.

The real challenge for India, as can be easily understood, is within and not outside. In the comity of nations, India has proved its point, which speaks volumes about the immensely better bargaining position of India vis-à-vis other nations, despite the policy paralysis in the country in the last few years. India has been labelled as an unfavourable destination for foreign investment due to unfriendly policies and knee-jerk reactions of the government, and at times, an exceptionally strict stand of the judiciary. This unwelcoming environment for business has to change for the better, and sooner rather than later, if India really wants the desired effect of the win at Bali to percolate to the grassroots level. Politics — global or domestic — apart, for the citizens of India, welfare of the people is far more important than saving the WTO.

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