Published in Books&Authors (Daily Dawn) on October 5, 2008
Reviewed by Ayesha Hoda
‘It must be ensured that the WTO system subserves development and does not subvert it. Only then would this organisation have credibility in the eyes of the developing world,’ commented Shri M. Maran, a former commerce and industry minister of India.
This statement reflects the gains developing countries like India expect from the World Trade Organisation (WTO). India is a founding member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and its successor, the WTO, which came into existence in 1995 after the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations.
India’s participation at WTO is geared towards more stability and predictability in international trade, which will ultimately lead to more trade and prosperity for the country and for other member nations of the WTO.
It is interesting to note that The WTO Deadlocked has been published at a time crucial for the world trade deal. The Doha Development Round of the WTO has yet again ended in deadlock as a result of the conflict between India and the United States. The collapse in negotiations came as a shock for many as representatives of WTO’s member states were satisfied with the progress of the mini-ministerial this year and expected an agreement after seven years of deadlock.
Observers will thus be curious to know more about India’s stance at the WTO throughout the trade organisation’s history and how the country will negotiate in the future. Will it continue to romance both the bilateral and the multilateral approaches? Will it continue to play the developing country leadership role in coming years?
This volume, co-authored by Debahis Chakraborty and Amir Ullah Khan, tries to find answers to these and other such questions regarding India and its role at the WTO. Chakraborty is an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade in New Delhi and Khan is the director of the India Development Foundation in Gurgaon.
While reading the history of the subcontinent, one is bound to notice that India has always been a pioneer of trade across borders, as is also pointed out by the writers: ‘The rich heritage of Indian trade with the Roman civilisation, East and West Asian, and Red Sea countries, and its presence on the silk and spice route map…’
However, after 1947, India became an epicenter of trade barriers in order to protect its infant industries. There was complete absence of export promotion in its development strategy before the early 1990s. The country began trade liberalisation in 1991, four years before the WTO was formed. At that point, growing economies had started to realise that the restrictions placed on trade had become dysfunctional. The preface of the book tries to explain India’s complex position and approach: ‘As a founder member of the multilateral trading system, it has been a steadfast supporter of multilateralism even when it was at its protectionist best.’
India’s participation at the WTO underwent massive change when it realised that the presence of tariff peaks and tariff escalation hampered its export interests to a major extent and that silence at WTO meetings was not going to help.
It is interesting to note that The WTO Deadlocked has been published at a time crucial for the world trade deal. The Doha Development Round of the WTO has yet again ended in a deadlock as a result of the conflict between India and the United States. The collapse in negotiations came as a shock for many as representatives of WTO’s member states were satisfied with the progress of the mini-ministerial this year and expected an agreement after seven years of deadlock.
With changes in its trade composition and the increasing need to be a significant part of the global economy, India has emerged as a major player in the negotiating dynamics of the WTO (specifically since the Seattle Ministerial).
The book provides a detailed overview of India’s negotiating strategies such as those concerning agriculture and non-agricultural market access. An analysis of the potential as well as the violation of various agreements, on the basis of WTO case laws, has also been presented.
The volume is both a factual account of what happened at the WTO negotiations and a study of India’s position as a result of changes in its economy, export basket etc. Provisions that should be considered for future reforms/talks have also been included.
The world is changing rapidly and so is the structure of international trade. The trading world is buzzing with a large number of relatively new terms such as preferential trade agreements, trade-related intellectual property rights, globalisation and contingency measures. Some of these and other issues are also included in this discussion as they form an integral part of world trade today. Readers get to know about India’s outlook when it comes to regionalism, intellectual property, anti-dumping, trade in services and so on, and are asked to consider what is next in line.
This book is not for beginners, that is, it supposes some level of understanding regarding the international trade scenario. It will assist those who are part of trade or industry and those interested in politics, economics or sociology. The language is simple though trade-related jargon has been used. Information has been gathered from a large number of sources, which may be referred to through the detailed bibliographical references and notes provided.
With its focus on India, the book promotes an understanding of what WTO has been able to achieve so far, what it stands for, and the positive and negative impact on developing countries of a global trade agreement.
The WTO Deadlocked
By Debashis Chakraborty & Amir Ullah Khan
Sage Publications, New Delhi
327pp Indian Rs650