Empire Strikes Back

Updated: Sep 17 2003, 05:30am hrs
The European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and the United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick would take the wrong lessons home from Cancun if their public statements made immediately after the conclusion of the WTO ministerial meeting represent the sum and substance of what they have learnt from what happened. Mr Zoellick blamed large developing countries, presumably India, China and Brazil, for misleading the least developed countries (LDCs). Mr Lamy was less gratuitous and more insulting. It is true that India and China could have settled for a compromise of sorts that was about to be negotiated before the LDCs cried foul and the Mexican host minister pulled the plug. However, it is not at all clear whether the LDCs would have obliged once India and China had fallen in line because they were clearly incensed with not only their relative marginalisation in the so-called green room process but also in the world economy. Neither India nor China could have ignored this anger of LDCs. More to the point, the rejuvenated unity of the developing world, for the first time after the decline of the non-aligned movement, holds far too much promise for all developing countries for some of them to break ranks for a few crumbs. In the end, that was the key issue: The few crumbs. With the US and EU giving away so little, the stakes were not high enough for any of the developing countries to break ranks and nip the bud of developing country unity.

What next Everyone concerned has to come to their senses. The EU must come to terms with the fact that it must address the issue of agricultural subsidies. The US must recognise that it must win the trust of the developing world at least on the economic front, having lost so much of it on the political front in recent months. We in India cannot afford to rest on the laurels earned by commerce minister Arun Jaitley for holding a fine brief. Championing the cause of the developing world is something that comes easy to us. Moving ahead with economic reforms, reducing tariffs and being a more open economy is a more difficult brief to handle. Some of the issues raised by LDCs at Cancun are raised by them even against India. As a large developing economy, we have to be more open to increased South-South trade, especially within South Asia. Finally, India should be pro-active in restoring the credibility of the WTO process so that multilateralism is not marginalised by bilateralism and regionalism.