WTO rejoices over Kamal Nath's exit from trade and commerce

Original Publication Date: 
1 June, 2009

By Devinder Sharma

Geneva heaves a sigh of relief. With Kamal Nath moved out of the Indian Commerce Ministry, the probability of concluding the contentious Doha Development Round of the WTO appears much brighter. Not that Kamal Nath was un-necessarily throwing spanners but his strong grip over the trade negotiations helped India to resist bullying and arm-twisting by the big boys of international trade.
WTO chief Pascal Lamy would remain eternally grateful to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for shifting Kamal Nath to lesser important Ministry of Surface Transport. I am not sure whether Manmohan Singh exchanged the portfolio deliberately but the facts remains that the WTO was keenly following the Indian elections (in April-May), and their interest was more about the political future of Kamal Nath than anything else.
Kamal Nath managed to retain his seat, but was divested of this important portfolio.
Only a few months back when Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh went for assembly elections, Geneva was keeping a close watch on the outcome. You will say what interest has the WTO got in Madhya Pradesh assembly elections. Well, Pascal Lamy was expecting anti-incumbancy to drive out the BJP government, and in that case there was a likelihood of Kamal Nath taking over as the Chief Minister. Kamal Nath belongs to Madhya Pradesh in central India.
But that did not happen. WTO was surely disappointed.
Speaking recently in Oman, before the formation of the Indian Cabinet, Pascal Lamy, had reportedly said now that the Indian general elections are over, India and the United States should hold bilateral talks to resolve their differences over agriculture and NAMA issues, and enable the Doha negotiations to conclude. If only Lamy had known that Kamal Nath would not be the Trade and Commerce Minister, I am sure he would have been more confident about the Doha Round finally coming to a conclusion in 2009.
The 7th WTO Ministerial is planned from Nov 30 to Dec 2 in Hong Kong.
Kamal Nath has been an eye sore not only for Pascal Lamy, but also for the United States and European Union. They had been wanting his removal for quite sometime now. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wasn't very happy with Kamal Nath because he did not blindly follow the Prime Minister's directive. I am aware that Kamal Nath has stood his ground a number of times despite New Delhi wanting him to accept the deal. Remember the failure of the WTO latest round of talks in Aug 2008. Kamal Nath was aware that George Bush had called up Manmohan Singh thrice and yet he didn't give an impression as if he was buckling under pressure.
This had obviously annoyed the Prime Minister. So much so, that there were rumours that Kamal Nath may be replaced by the deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a more pliable economist.
With Anand Sharma sworn-in as the new Commerce Minister, it will be relatively easy now to push for an early completion of the Doha Round. Knowing the interest of the ruling UPA government, India will try its best to compromise on agriculture and NAMA, and bend backwards to appease the US/EU. Unless of course the civil society, more importantly the farmer movements, wake up to the severe threat looming ahead. After all, the WTO is a life and death issue for the 600 million strong farming population of India. #