TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept09/06)
10 September 2009
Third World Network

Indian groups criticize Delhi Mini-Ministerial meeting
Published in SUNS #6766 dated 3 September 2009

Geneva, 2 Sep (Kanaga Raja) -- Some 250 groups comprising trade unions, agriculture organizations as well as a wide range of public interest groups across India have voiced criticism over a Mini-Ministerial meeting of some 35 trade ministers representing key WTO Members and coalitions that will take place in New Delhi on 3-4 September.

Their concerns came in a letter sent by the groups to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

Indian farmers are expected to gather at Jantar Mantar (an 18th century astronomical observatory and national monument in New Delhi near Parliament House) as the meeting starts on 3 September.

Independent Unions such as the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) and Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) are also expected to mobilise along with the Left Parties who have also announced a march from Mandi House to Parliament Street.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy is expected to attend the Mini-Ministerial meeting.

In their letter, the groups believed that the Government of India's attempt to "re-energize" the stalled WTO talks is "flawed and misguided". The proposed WTO Doha deal would only benefit the corporate interests of developed countries such as the US and the EU and drastically eliminate India's policy space to protect its real economy, the letter said.

The Government's sudden proactive stance on the Doha deal will have far-reaching, irreversible and adverse consequences for the country's economy and polity, said the letter. "It will severely increase the vulnerability of our agriculture sector to the vagaries of global trade, impacting our food security and over two-thirds of our population dependent on it. Moreover, it will increase the dependency of India's industrial economy on advanced countries and exacerbate the impacts of the agrarian and financial crises at home."

According to the groups, India stands to lose on all key areas under negotiation - agriculture, fisheries, industrial tariffs, services and intellectual property. The EU and US will not reduce their actual agricultural subsidies or accept demands for movement in labour in sectors such as services.

In fact, said the group's letter, the US Farm Act 2008 actually increases payouts to US farm lobbies. Rather than rectifying past imbalances of the trade regime, the US and the EU are demanding that countries such as India enforce further cuts in agriculture tariffs, drastically reduce industrial tariffs and provide market access in key services sectors such as retail, construction sectors and liberalise others such as banking and insurance - leading to further financial crises, increased costs and loss of both competitiveness and jobs.

"The WTO proposals severely dilute provisions to protect our agriculture," said the groups, adding that they drastically limit the number of crops that can be exempt from tariff reductions and propose a highly ineffective mechanism to prevent import surges.

Other onerous demands such as an "anti-concentration clause" and "sectorals" will have enormous impacts on "our organised and unorganised sectors and the future of our manufacturing and fisheries sectors". In contrast, rich countries will commit to much lower reductions in their duties and do nothing to their non-tariff barriers.

"Our own economy has endured massive job-losses in export-led sectors due to the financial crisis and our trade deficit continues to rise."

Rather than "re-energizing" talks on a flawed framework, the groups stressed that the government must go back and rewrite and re-strengthen its position on the protection of millions of workers and farmers by safeguarding India's agriculture and industries.

The groups urged that it is imperative that any WTO position that the UPA Government pursues is set out in a white paper and discussed in the Parliament. They said that the Government should not be allowed to make any commitments without consulting the Parliament and state legislatures. +