India has done well not to buckle under pressure from the US on the WTO’s trade facilitation agreement. The agreement has been nullified by India and a few countries not ratifying it before July 31. US secretary of state John Kerry was neither diplomatic nor truthful when he said India’s refusal to sign the trade deal had undermined its image. He and his colleague commerce secretary Penny Pritzker who met prime minister Narendra Modi in Delhi last week were clearly told that Western nations should understand the peculiar problems of developing countries like India—a fitting reply to their pressure tactics.
No, India does not want global trade to be hamstrung by procedural delays. It, too, wants the trade processes to be quicker so that when goods reach the port of destination, they are quickly unloaded. For this it is ready to sign any reasonable agreement, provided developing countries are freed from the WTO rule that only 10 per cent of their grain production can be stockpiled and subsidised to meet their food security needs. If India agrees to such a condition, it will be tantamount to dismantling its public distribution system and leaving tens of millions of the poor to fend for themselves. India wants a resolution of this problem as quickly as the new trade regime can come into force.
Alas, the rich nations were more bothered about the $1 trillion that would have been pumped into the global economy if the agreement had a smooth sailing. True, India was given some time to comply with the WTO rules. What’s overlooked is that the condition of the poor and their need for subsidised food will not change in the near future, even if India attains a double-digit growth rate. The insistence on WTO addressing India’s concern also marks a change in India’s policy. As president Barack Obama gets ready to receive Modi, he should realise that India will hereafter follow a “India-first policy” in both foreign affairs and trade. Reciprocity and respect for each other’s strategic interests alone will guide India-US ties.