'The main issue was livelihood of millions of poor farmers'

Updated: Aug 1 2008, 05:27am hrs
Despite being nearly isolated in the select group of ministers from seven countriesIndia, Brazil, China, Japan, Australia, the European Union and the USchosen by World Trade Organisation (WTO) director general Pascal Lamy to clinch a global trade deal, commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath stood his ground and did not yield to the pressures of the rich countries, especially the US, to compromise on protection of the livelihood concerns of poor farmers in developing countries. Talking to Arun S of FE, Nath discussed the reasons for the collapse of the WTO talks in detail. He also said positions of the US were dictated by commercial considerations and that he did not want any trade off at the cost of the livelihood security of the poor.

What was the main reason for the collapse of the ministerial-level talks at the Doha Development Round of the WTO

The main issue was the security of livelihood of millions of poor farmers in India and other developing countries against import surges which could take place.

The special safeguard mechanism (or SSM) enabling developing countries like India to impose additional duties to protect the livelihood of its poor farmers from import surges and price declines of sensitive agricultural products was agreed in Hong Kong (Ministerial Declaration adopted in December 2005), and in the Framework Agreement (of the WTO agreed in August 2004).

But the proposal on the table was frustrating the operationalisation of SSM. Developed countries and those with huge farm export interests wanted SSM to become effective only at a higher rate of import surge so that their interests were not hurt. I was not going to accept this proposal.

There was no question of trading off commercial interests with livelihood security. Developed countries must, in fact, reach out to the poorest and undeveloped countries. India has 300 million people living on less than a dollar a day and 700 million people at $2 a day.

This SSM is not just for today, but is in the larger interests of Indian agriculture for years to come. No one would have thought a year ago that there would be this sort of crisis in global food prices, which is caused also due to huge farm subsides of countries like the US. These huge farm subsidies are causing lack of investment in agriculture sector in developing countries. Investment in agriculture in developing countries can only come with the reassurance that import surges will not happen.

The talks having failed, do you think India is losing out in anyway

We are not losing out. India is already growing at 8.5%. We possibly cannot look at gaining on one hand and fail to secure livelihood security of the poor on the other.

Was India isolated at the G-7 talks

In the G-7, I was alone speaking. But, not in terms of membership. In terms of membership, we had a backing of over 100 countries, including the G-33 (group of countries including India , Indonesia , Cuba , Philippines and Venezuela , all with defensive interests in agriculture), African Group (comprising all African WTO members) and the ACP group (including African, Carribean and Pacific nations).

Were there issues other than SSM that were unresolved

Yes. The issues of (reduction or elimination of ) cotton subsidies of the US, the issues of industrial products (where the US insisted that developing countries should eliminate duties in certain infant and vulnerable industries in developing countries) and (overall trade distorting farm) subsidies of the

US, were left unresolved. The US did not want to get into discussions on cotton subsides. The US has their positions and some positions are dictated solely by commercial considerations.

What is the way forward now for the WTO

India s confidence in this institution of WTO and the multilateral system remains intact. I think what is on the table should be left on the table and we should consider this as a pause and then pick this up, move forward and run that extra mile.

What about the unity of all our alliances, especially the G-20, considering that Brazil has broken away

The unity will remain intact because nobody is willing to bargain or sell off issues which affect the poorest people in their respective country. It is due to the joint efforts of G-20 that we have got this far. G-20 is a diverse group and that is what gives it credibility and each member respects the other.