No compromise on livelihood issues, Kamal Nath hits back at critics

July 26th, 2008 - 6:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Geneva, July 26 (IANS) Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath has hit back at critics who have accused him of stalling world trade talks, saying it is they who are unwilling to protect the livelihood of poor farmers and small manufacturers across the world. “I made it very clear in these talks that I am willing to negotiate commerce. I am not willing to negotiate livelihood security, or small and infant industry,” Kamal Nath said Friday.

“We must remember that our manufacturing industry, auto, auto-components and textiles are all very infant and we cannot negotiate these. They have led to employment generation and these issues are at the heart of the development round,” the minister told CNBC-TV18.

Earlier, the Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed negotiators as saying Kamal Nath had frustrated progress at the talks, which are known as the Doha Development Round after the Qatari capital where they kicked off in 2001.

“He (Kamal Nath) just sat there and said ‘No’ for 12 straight hours,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed trade official as saying Thursday - after the Indian minister flew in to Geneva amid expectations his presence would energise discussions.

But the minister told the WSJ he was “not willing to negotiate the livelihood of millions of poor people for the benefit of noncompetitive European industries.”

“The future of automobiles is not in Detroit or Stuttgart, it’s in Asia,” he said.

The thrust of Kamal Nath’s statements so far has been that the enhancement of prosperity cannot happen without decline in poverty levels - and that any WTO agreement struck in Geneva must reflect this reality.

Kamal Nath said developed countries are reluctant to allow India and other developing countries leeway on the crucial issue of Special Products (SP) and Special Safeguard Mechanisms (SSM), which are designed to protect the livelihood of their poor farmers.

Under these proposals, all countries are allowed to list a specific number of SPs - those items which will retain high tariffs because they are seen as vital to protecting the livelihood of farmers.

SSMs are aimed at protecting countries’ food security from sudden surges in supplies and drops in prices.

“In areas which affect livelihood and security, which affect poverty, there is no agreement, there is no consensus. In areas that enhance prosperity there is some consensus,” Kamal Nath told reporters after talks Friday.

Over the past year, the Indian minister has told forums all over the world that his primary concern as a negotiator is the well-being of India’s 600 million people who are dependent on farming.

This is the reason India has insisted that the US and other rich nations make meaningful cuts in their domestic agricultural subsidies that skew world prices.

Kamal Nath told WTO negotiators Wednesday: “Without an ambitious outcome on domestic support, it would be very difficult to get traction on other issues.”

He pointed out that rich nations have used a mechanism very similar to the SSM, known as Special Safeguards (SSG) which allowed them to restrict imports of hundreds of items - Switzerland alone listed 961 items.

Kamal Nath said: “We are not at all happy about the SSM proposal. All manner of objections are being raised to our right to safeguard livelihood concerns of hundreds of millions. Are we expected to stand by, see a surge in imports and do nothing? Do we give developed countries the unfettered right to continue subsidising and then dumping those subsidies on us jeopardising lives of billions?

“The position of developed counties is utterly self-righteous: they have enjoyed their SSG (and want to continue it) but our SSM must be subject to all sorts of shackles and restraints. This self-righteousness will not do.

“If it means no deal, so be it,” he added.

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