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WTO Ministerial Conference

Surrender at Singapore

In order to justify his party’s opportunistic participation in UF, the senior CPI(M) ideologue EMS came up with the theory that the UF government is the coalition of progressive and forward-looking bourgeoisie and the Left. Though traditionally the only criteria for communists in colonial and semi-colonial countries to characterise and categorise the local bourgeoisie had been its role vis-a-vis the anti-imperialist tasks of the democratic revolution, the veteran theoretician, whose position was even at variance with the official position of his party, did not elaborate where lies this ‘progressivism’ and the ‘forward-looking’ character of the Indian big bourgeoisie, or that section supposedly behind the UF. Citing India’s stand on CTBT, CPI(M) however came out officially in full praise of UF government’s foreign policy. But hardly within a few months came the dramatic somersault in the face of US pressure by this socalled progressive bourgeoisie at the Singapore ministerial meeting of the WTO. The incensed CPI(M) MPs were seen railing at this national betrayal by their own UF’s government calling it a total sellout of the national sovereignty. They should have known better.

In fact, India’s stand on CTBT was guided more by its security perceptions vis-a-vis its neighbours rather than by any determination to stand up to any imperialist pressure. This much was evident from the developments that followed very soon. A single defeat in a UN vote was enough to unnerve the ‘forward-looking’ bourgeoisie. They, even those in the government, started interpreting the defeat at the hands of Japan for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council as a result of total isolation due to the ‘hard stance’ on CTBT. In a knee-jerk reaction, Deve Gowda government unilaterally declared that the Agni missile would not be deployed so as to appease the Americans. And even before the crucial trade negotiations at Singapore, they started expressing fears about ‘isolation’. And at Singapore it was back to the usual spinelessness.

India would oppose tooth and nail any attempt by G-7 countries to bring in any ‘new’ issues for negotiation under WTO, declared Deve Gowda government. Any linkage between trade and social clause and labour standards would go against the vital national interests, said the commerce secretary just on the eve of leaving for Singapore. There is no question of India agreeing to bringing an investment treaty under the consideration of WTO, they declared confidently. Deve Gowda, still wallowing in the illusions of India’s leadership role in the Third World and forging a collective developing countries stand on these issues despite its own vacillations, was all confidence in his routine rhetorics at the G-15 meet. The confidence soon collapsed. At Singapore it was a complete volte-face.

Faced with an uproar in the parliament, the UF government blamed East Asian and Latin American countries for their own shameless surrender saying that these countries did not stand by the unified Third World stand which however did not exist in the first place, if one sets aside the rhetorics at the G-15 meet. In any case their priorities are different: the Latin American countries, almost exclusively dependent on foreign capital, wouldn’t mind a treaty on investment and East Asian countries, with a far better record of labour standards than India’s, are not so weary of core labour standards. Rather both these group of countries are fighting for better market access. They can hardly be blamed for letting down India if this country is not capable of standing by its own declared positions.

The other argument regarding ‘isolation’ is also equally specious. By avoiding isolation and falling in line what did India achieve? It was US, which in ‘isolation’ stuck to its guns, i.e. singlehandedly threatened all others and refused to sign the declaration without the mention of core labour standards, and finally had its way. If India too had put its foot down even in isolation heavens would not have fallen. Neither US would have withdrawn from WTO nor anybody could have forced India out. Nobody could undo the Uruguay Round framework already arrived at as the basis of WTO. As it is, at this stage, India stands to gain little from furthering the multilateral process steered by the G-7. This furthering of the multilateral process is very much a onesided affair. The agenda is set almost by US and EU. There is very little India, or the Third World for that matter, can gain. The developed countries are offering virtually nothing in terms of greater market access to the Third World. Growth through export of capital to the emerging Third World economies under more favourable conditions and fear of job losses at home are the two basic considerations of the international finance capital which drives this socalled multilateral process forward which is almost fully biased in favour of the West. That is why when the LDCs which account for 0.3% of the total global exports asked for zero-tariff concession from the developed countries for their exports there was a stiff resistance and the developed countries were not forthcoming even on this small demand by the most needy.

Even in India’s case, except for the proposed infotech pact (no tariff for information technology), to which India has agreed to in principle, where the Indian software exports are supposed to benefit for a few years after which it might turn counterproductive when the large and ever growing Indian market for information technology would be offered tariff-free for the developed countries outweighing India’s short-term gains on software exports and might even institutionalise a division of labour, a technological apartheid, in the emerging hi-tech areas, the Indian delegation to the ministerial meeting came back emptyhanded. Rather it is the UF government’s craving for attracting $10 billion a year foreign investment at any cost and the emerging grim scenario in the economy and, above all, its spinelessness to stand up to any US bilateral pressure or trade retaliation for not falling in line which made them fear the socalled isolation. After all, only 28 countries had agreed to sign the US-championed infotech pact. The rest, even some big Third World countries, individually preferred to remain in ‘isolation’ despite US efforts to rope them in but nothing happened to them. Rather by accepting to discuss core labour standards and an agreement on this, the Indian government has given a handle to the US and made itself vulnerable to trade blackmail and even sanctions in the future.

After agreeing for the inclusion of reference to core labour standards in the declaration and formation of working groups on investment and competition, Indian delegation tried to put up a brave face saying that they got the Americans to agree to the ILO framework and unless there is consensus they would not sign any agreement on any of these three issues in Geneva etc. What they didn’t understand, or wanted to cover up, was that getting the developing countries to agree to piecemeal concessions and binding them to some form of negotiation or other in the name of ‘working group’ and ‘study group’ is the very strategy of US and EU to nudge them towards a ‘consensus’ which at the end can however be secured by armstwisting through bilateral pressure. Ironically, India and other developing countries who vehemently protested against giving even an observer status to the ILO representative and refused to let him take the floor saying even this might imply an indirect linkage between trade and labour standards, ended up pleading for that very ILO framework as the basis for labour standards.

When the Deve Gowda government was facing a virtual rebellion in the parliament from MPs belonging not only from many UF partners themselves but from all parties, including Congress(I), it was Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, the two known stooges of WB-IMF-WTO, who came to the rescue of Deve Gowda. Nevertheless, Manmohan Singh, in his defence of India’s surrender at Singapore, gave away the essential linkage between India’s tottering economic fundamentals and the act of surrender. Contrary to Indian delegation’s claim of having had their say in finalising the compromise declaration, Mr.Singh was forthright in saying all that India could obtain in Singapore was a two-year reprieve and unless India improves the position of its economy before the more crucial round at Geneva in 1998 it will have no bargaining strength left.

Though initially the Deve Gowda government tried to save its skin by putting the blame for its surrender on other G-15 countries, later it turned out that the Union Cabinet, with its turncoat ‘communist’ members, had discussed India’s position before the Singapore meet and the only brief given to Indian delegation was to avoid isolation at any cost. Nevertheless the Janus-faced CPI MPs joined the chorus of condemnation equally vociferously. The CPI(M) MPs accused the UF government of going against the ‘national consensus’ and springing a surprise behind the nation’s back. India’s climbdown was not discussed in any all-party meeting, they accused. But they themselves didn’t offer any explanation why they couldn’t get the ruling UF’s Steering Committee to discuss any possible shift in the stand. What the senior CPI(M) leaders who take pride in being the self-appointed advisors to Gowda and spend most of their time troubleshooting for his government were doing? Why Mr. Jyoti Basu, who even boycotted a Steering Committee meeting on Uttarakhand announcement, did not come out with even a statement on Singapore? No wonder, nobody, especially their ‘progressive’ and ‘forward-looking’ bourgeoisie, takes their dubious and double-standard protests seriously.


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