Thursday, September 4, 2008


The question that defies an answer is whether a global agreement for free trade amongst the members of World Trade Organization is ever feasible at all with conflicting interests between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', the two opposing sides in this war of attrition. The tortuous negotiations which started in Doha some years ago for arriving at a negotiated agreement for barrier free trade in all sectors of food and agriculture, raw materials and and finished goods was expected to be wrapped up during the recent Geneva Conference in June 2008. If the biased news reports emanating from developed countries are to be believed, the trade talks collapsed because of the 'intransigence' of two countries, India and China. India was particularly criticized for standing against the might of the rich nations because it was considered too poor a country to take a stand against them.

The truth of the matter is that the rise of the two Asian Giants whose economy continue to grow at impressive rates, is a bitter pill to the dislike of many developed countries including EU community, USA and Japan. The 'head I win, tail you loose' mindset of these economically affluent countries is not conducive for any agreement with out sacrificing the right to live for millions of farmers in Asia, Africa and South America. The most contentious issue was the agricultural subsidies, that is prevalent in almost all countries across the world in the name of protecting the interests of their farmers in a fiercely competitive global market. What is appalling is the fact that the farmimg community in developing countries constitute more than 70% of their population while that in industrialized nations hardly makes up 2%, many of whom are millionaires enjoying affluent life styles . In contrast average land holding size is less than 2 acres in most of the poor countries,indisputably unviable sizes while farmers in rich countries hold thousands of acres as individual holdings. Penury and abject poverty seem to be the hallmarks of the lives of these poor farmers on whom the West wants to heap further misery through its cruel trade dictates which if accepted may become the 'last straw on the camel's back'!

In a world trade valued at $1 trillion, even if there is no universal trade agreement the estimated value of aggregate loss to the international trade will be less than $ 70 billion. Rich countries are apprehensive that if the subsidies being provided by their governments to the extent of $1-2 billion a day is stopped, their exports might suffer due to high cost of production, threatening the viability of the agricultural sector as a whole. It is forgotten that if there is a need due to shortages, importing countries do resort to imports at whatever is the global bench mark prices at that time. Recent massive imports of wheat by India to tide over the grain crisis at prices much higher than that prevailing in the local markets is an excellent example of how prices alone do not determine the compulsions for global purchases. It is sad that business interests far outweigh humanitarian concerns, ignoring utter deprivation and frequent farmer
suicides in countries like India and the West continues to refuse to see the reality, still demanding on the developing countries to commit 'harakiri' by not insisting on the 'safety net' provisions for their farming community in any future trade agreement!

While every inch of available land worth cultivation is being tapped in the developing countries, farmers in the West are given cash incentives not to cultivate their fertile land, fearing price melt downs at the market due to excess supply! It is said that hunger for some is an opportunity to others and this is what is evident from the stonewalling of trade negotiations at Geneva by the West. If they are guided by true human values, they must allow free trade at least in food crops with protective safeguards for the poor countries to impose tariffs on imports at times of distress. A magnanimous gesture by the West to unilaterally lift their trade barriers will go a long way to ensure peace in the world and avoid mega scale human tragedies in future. After all the stake is only worth $ 70 billion, a small price to pay to live and let live fellow dwellers with dignity on this planet!


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