"India must have a proactive trade agenda"

Muchkund Dubey's crowning achievement at the end of an illustrious career as a diplomat was his role as India's foreign secretary during the Uruguay Round of negotiations. He spoke to Raksha Khushalani in Kathmandu about the chief issues awaiting solutions before the World Trade Organization (WTO)

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- On the main issues emerging in the WTO:
The agenda for the issues emerging before the wto has already been laid down in its agreements. In addition, at Marakkesh (where the final act was adopted), a new item on trade and environment was included in the agenda. The summary of the chairman's address at the Marakkesh conference had mentioned a number of important items including the link between trade and labour standards, and competition policy.

On some of the main components of the unfinished agenda and on whether there can evolve a South Asian convergence of views on these:
There are four issues of the unfinished agenda on which South Asian nations can establish a convergence of views. The first of these is the movement of unskilled and semi-skilled labour. South Asian nations have a vested interest in seeing this item through as they have exportable surplus labour. Secondly, South Asian countries have an important common interest in the phasing out of the Multi Fibre Agreement on textiles. Thirdly, these countries should take up the issue of tariff cuts on those goods which may hold value for them from the point of view of export. Finally, South Asian countries share a common view on the adoption of proposals regarding a suitable competition policy. This should primarily include the restriction of those trade practices adopted by transnational corporations, which could be a barrier to competition in international trade.

On which of the newly emerging issues on the WTO agenda worry him, and why:
The two worrisome issues which may come up on the wto agenda are the insistence by the developed countries to have an agreement on the treatment of foreign private capital, and the linking of labour standards with trade. The first of these will have far-reaching implications for the sovereignty of developing countries and the second is likely to assume a new protectionist form against competitive exports from developing countries.

On India's main bargaining chips in the first ministerial meeting of the WTO, to be held in Singapore, in December this year:
India's main bargaining chips are its vast market, which depends not just on its population and the recent increase in per capita income, but also on the investment opportunities provided by the recent opening up of the Indian economy. In addition, I shall not rule out the fact that India can hold a major bargaining chip by forging a joint front with like-minded developing countries.

On who in his opinion are the main actors in the WTO debate in India:
The actor in the forefront of the negotiations will have to be the government because wto negotiations are government to government dialogues. However, other actors, specially the ngos, can play a role in mobilising opinion domestically to shape the negotiating stance adopted by the government.

On the inclusion of the social clause in the WTO and the linking of environmental standards to trade:
Fundamentally, I am strongly against both. These views expressed by the developed countries and lobbies active there do not really reflect their concern for the environment and the exercise of human rights by workers in developing countries. They are mainly motivated by a desire to apply restrictions against our exports. International standards have a role to play but they should be adopted autonomously, on the merits of the issue itself, rather than through the coercive device of linking them to trade.

On what, according to him, should be the components of a proactive agenda for India and South Asia on the whole:
Clearly, we can no longer survive on a strategy of just reacting to the agenda put out for us by the West. India must, preferably in collaboration with other South Asian countries, have its own proactive agenda. This is particularly so in the context of the labour movement, competition policy, decline in tariff escalation, further liberalisation in the field of agriculture and in the formulation of anti dumping measures that are less rigourous. There is also scope for a proactive agenda regarding the General Agreement on Trade in Services, where India and other developing countries can push for an international agreement on the preconditions for taking mfn (most favoured nation) exemption in the negotiations.

On whether India has made any important mistakes during the Uruguay Round of talks:
In my opinion, two major mistakes were made. The first was that we gave up on the mobilisation of other deve loping countries during the negotiations. This definitely led to a weakening of our position. The argument that no major developing country was prepared to go along with us is not valid because a lot depends upon a particular country taking an initiative. Many countries looked up to India for this purpose and were disappointed when we started sulking.

The second major mistake was our acceptance in the resumed review session in April, 1989, of the inclusion of norms and standards of Intellectual Property Rights in the discussion. This ultimately led to an agreement on the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights System which is the biggest setback -- if not a disaster -- suffered by the developing countries in the Uruguay Round. I feel that with resoluteness, this could have been avoided or accepted only after making various qualifications.

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