Call to Indian Government: No WTO-Doha compromise

Original Publication Date: 
18 June, 2009

Mr. Manmohan Singh
The Prime Minister of India
Prime Minister’s Office
Room No. 152, South Block
New Delhi – 110 001
Fax: 01123019545; 01123016857

CC to:  Mr. Anand Sharma, Union Minister of Commerce and Industry
    Fax:  01123062223; 01123062947

    Mr. Anand Sharma through Ambassador Meera Shankar, Embassy of India, United States
    Fax: +12022654351

    Mr. Sharad Pawar, Minister of Agriculture,
    Fax:  01123384129; 01123018609

Date: 18 June, 2009

Dear Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh,

As the newly formed UPA coalition government is just settling in to govern for the next five years, there is news that Commerce Minister Anand Sharma is already on his way to the United States (US) to bilaterally iron out differences to seal the trade deal that was launched during the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) 4th Ministerial Meeting in Doha. 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 Development Round.

It is well established by now that the last versions of the Doha texts that negotiators failed to reach agreement on in July and December 2008 respectively will do nothing to reduce US and European Union (EU) subsidies to their agriculture sectors. Yet, in return developed countries are demanding zero for zero cuts in non-agriculture goods in most sectors. It is also clear that negotiations on the Services agreement will not fulfill the Government of India's (GOI) demands on the free movement of Indian professionals, let alone Indian unskilled workers. Furthermore, provisions to protect agriculture such as “special products” and “safeguards” have been diluted to such a degree as to make these provisions ineffective to protect our farm sector.

In a time when Indian export industries are shedding jobs across the country and the farm sector is in a state of distress, and when the fall-out of the current financial crisis is still being assessed and addressed, why is the GOI in such a hurry to seal the Doha Deal without sufficient public debate and a reality check? What will India gain from such a deal when financial analysts such as Bloomberg and major studies from institutions such as the World Bank, the Carnegie Institute and Tufts University have severely downgraded the estimates for gains from the Doha deal for developing countries as a whole? An estimate of $96 to $50 billion  in gains which amounts to less than half a cent per person in the developing countries. These gains are particularly insignificant for India given its GDP of over $3.2 trillion. On the other hand, a Doha deal would have serious and far reaching negative impacts on India's rural areas, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), jobs and food security. UNCTAD estimates that tariff revenue losses alone from the Doha round would be close to $60 billion. In light of these realities, neither the Commerce Ministry, nor the Prime Minister's office have been able to make a convincing case for the conclusion of the Doha round of negotiations.

The UPA's slogan for the recent election campaign was Aam Admi Ke Badhte Kadam Har Kadam Par Bharat Buland. For India’s massive rural constituencies concerned with food and agriculture, the Congress stressed that the UPA “brought comfort and hope to crores of farmers” through the management of minimum support and procurement prices, loan waivers and credit. And it claimed that the UPA will ensure that the National Rural Employment Guarantee act works effectively and that it will enact a national “Right to Food Law that guarantees access to sufficient food for all people, particularly the most vulnerable sections of society.”

The right to food can only become a reality if the Commerce Ministry--that is currently jump-starting the WTO trade talks and negotiating 19 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) --does not trade away our agriculture sector and rural economies. The NREGA will only work if those who earn their livelihoods from the farm sector continue to retain their means of income.

While most of the 153 WTO members are busy dealing with national priorities related to the financial and food crises, the UPA government is eager to bilaterally negotiate with the US on Doha. Why are we in such a rush, that even before a revised national budget and our trade policy have been formulated, we seem to want to compromise on crucial national interests in the name of multilateralism? And that too in a bilateral talk with the US!

We understand that Minister Sharma will be meeting with Mr. Kirk in the next days to see where comprises can be achieved on crucial issues such as safeguards to protect Indian farmers against unexpected import surges and subsidised US and European farm products. If the UPA is truly serious about strengthening India's “Aam Aadmi,” then the Commerce Ministry must comprehensively assess and revisit the provisions it is negotiating in the WTO and in its FTAs from the perspective of majority of India's agricultural producers, workers and SMEs rather than rushing to make compromises that will only benefit big business and corporations.

The UPA’s commitment to farmers, workers and the right to food must be genuinely defended by Minister Sharma. 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 to build robust farm, non-agriculture industries and services sectors. Otherwise it is unclear how the UPA will live up to its own election manifesto.

Signed by the following organizations and individuals:

1.    All India Kisan Sabha (4 Ashoka Road, New Delhi)
2.    Annadana Soil and Seed Savers (Bangalore)
3.    AP Alliance for food Sovereignty
4.    Bhartiya Kissan Union (Non Political)
5.    Bharatiya Krishak Samaj
6.    Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India
7.    CECOEDECON (Jaipur)
8.    Center for Contemporary Studies & Research (Lucknow)
9.    Centre for Education and Communication (CEC)
10.    Chipko-Appiko Andolan (Sirsi)
11.    Common Concern
12.    Deccan Development Society
13.    Equations (Bangalore)
14.    Focus on the Global South
15.    Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security
16.    Gene Campaign
17.    Green Foundation (Bangalore)
18.    Human Rights - Tamilnadu Initiative
19.    Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements
20.    Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)
21.    Intercultural Resources (ICR)
22.    Invision Technologies Pvt Ltd
23.    Kerala Swathantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation (KSMTF)
24.    Kheti Virasat Movement (Punjab)
25.    La Via Campesina, South Asia
26.    Living Farms, Bhubaneswar
27.    Lumiere Organic Restaurant (Kochi)
28.    Movement for Peace and Justice (Maharashtra)
29.    Nadi Ghati Morcha (Chhattisgarh)
30.    National Hawkers Federation
31.    New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)
32.    Orissa Nari Samaj (the Tribal Women's Movement of Orissa)
33.    Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Kerala
34.    Public Services International South Asia
35.    Save our Rice Campaign
36.    Shetkari Sangathana, Maharashtra
37.    South Against Genetic Engineering
38.    Thamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam (Farmers Association of Tamilnadu),
39.    Thanal (Kerala)
40.    Third World Network
41.    Team for Human Resource Education & Action for Development (THREAD), Orissa
42.    Vikas Sahyog Pratishthan (Maharashtra)

1.    B.K. Keayla
2.    H. R. Prakash (ARTIC, Kotturu)
3.    Uday Gupta
4.    Janak Daftari
5.    Kavitha Kuruganti
6.    Prof. C.P. Chandrasekhar (JNU)
7.    Prof. Jayati Ghosh (JNU)
8.    Syed Ghalib Hussain
9.    Umendra Dutt
10.    V.C. Nanda