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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 41, October 4, 2014

The Veto and Future Sketch

Monday 6 October 2014, by Amna Mirza

The recent proclamation by India at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meet in Australia— that it has the right to retain higher stock-holding of foodgrains—has led to arguments over the Bali Agreement, the final Trade Facilit-ation Agreement (TFA).

India’s latest veto has ignited debates from the national and international levels alike. At one side, it was argued that India, with its change from the coalition era to a single party- dominant National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which rose to stellar victory led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given a new impetus to foreign policy and international trade matters. It has put India to raise its voice as a strong player in the international community. While at the other side, the Opposition has contested this claim arguing that food security is sacred for the Indian constitutional ethos, which can never be sacrificed. There are critics who opine that India has caused a new squabble which kills the good faith and goodwill of the neo-liberal international institutions.

The need of the hour is to analyse the peculiar nature of working of the international global reality within which the WTO exists, and how this contextual reality makes it imperative for us not to be smug about the current veto stand. India may not have agreed in light of the economic nationalist perspective of livelihood and security of the poor people. The idea of fully rational consensus is too tough a goal to reach in international diplomacy and India has to meticulously work out to not allow this veto tarnish its image in several other foreign parleys.

The era of the 1990s gave new contours to world history with the end of the Cold War. There was escalation of the forces that were there to make the world a place which was marked by an ever growing symbiotic relation of inter-reliance. However, the astounding feature is that the state is here to stay and not just let it be a totally occupied terrain for the market forces. One has to also point out that as seen in the Indian case, a strong domestic legislative mandate cannot be the only yardstick because global forces have an impact on the national government to act and control.

Globalisation has posed a challenge to the traditional conception of the nation-state by dis-embedding the traditional legal order by its supranational governance as seen in the WTO origination in 1995. What complicates things more in the process of the ongoing negotiations and discussions of this Janus-faced treaty are that there are many missed deadlines and no certainty as to what shape the final picture would take.

Further, it is essential to stress that in the global reality, new issues are evolving which are co-linked with the local domestic scenario. The problem becomes peculiar in federal states like India with constitutionally defined scheme of power—where subjects of the Union overlap with those of the States. India is looked upon as a pioneer in the South Asian region with its presence at important forums like G-20, BRICS etc. Our needs of security stretch beyond conven-tional security to non-conventional terrorism, pandemics, food safeguards etc

Therefore, with the new effective negotiating capacity that India has acquired, national interest has to be balanced out between international trade and economic development. International economic global governance is a chimera, with too many nations and differences. Inputs in decision-making have also aggravated under the impact of wider forces—getting the business environment correct to a pro-poor approach. Therefore, instead of presenting a perplexed image of the country as it was dubbed in the case of the WTO veto, one has to comprehend the nuances of inseparable global-local connection. The conceit of a colossal legislative mandate may not augur well for India’s ever-benign image. A fine balancing is the need of the hour.

Dr Amna Mirza is an Assistant Professor, University of Delhi.