Bajaj hits out at France as it takes over EU presidency

July 3rd, 2008 - 5:43 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, July 3 (IANS) Bajaj Group Chairman Rahul Bajaj mounted a scathing criticism of France over its protectionist position in world trade talks just as the country took over the presidency of the European Union. In an address to an influential forum of British business, Bajaj also held the position of France - and the US - responsible for India’s reluctance to introduce any further liberalisation of its economy, particularly in the financial services sector.

“The developed world should see that growth in India and China is good for the world. But I find what is happening in the WTO (World Trade Organization) negotiations on agriculture - particularly (the positions of) the US and France - is shameful,” Bajaj told a meeting of businessmen and bankers in London Wednesday.

“There are 600 million Indian farmers who live on agriculture, for whom it is an absolute livelihood situation. There are a few hundred thousand in France, and two million in the US, whose lives are obviously more important - or so it looks like to us,” Bajaj said at the meeting organised by the Commonwealth Business Council at the Institute of Directors.

Calling Britain “the best of the lot” among rich nations, Bajaj said it was the position of France and the US in both the agricultural and manufacturing sector negotiations at the WTO which was responsible for lack of progress in India’s economic reforms agenda.

The position of the developed world - France is a major supporter of increased agricultural subsidies - at the WTO, he said, “is making it difficult for politicians in India to open up”.

“If the EU and US give those kinds of subsidies - $2 billion a day - to their famers, then that’s justified. And we are expected to open our retail sector? I mean, come on!” the plain-speaking industrialist said.

“Economics is a not a zero-sum game - it’s about expanding the size of the cake,” he told his audience.

Bajaj’s comments came as EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of “undermining” the European position at the WTO talks, which are aimed at creating a level playing field in the world trade.

“I am being undermined and Europe’s negotiating position in the world trade talks is being weakened,” Mandelson said a day after France took over the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Sarkozy said in an interview on Monday he would block any WTO agreement that would sacrifice farm production on the “altar of global liberalism.”

France is Europe’s biggest agriculture producer as well as the largest recipient of generous EU farm subsidies.

Developing countries led by India, China, Brazil and South Africa argue that such subsidies skew the market against the developing world and want them eliminated.

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