Competitiveness in agriculture beyond WTO agreements

The Doha round is an opportunity

Most of the interests at the WTO framework negotiations walked away from Geneva (a major rip-off city) with self-congratulatory smiles. The good news is that Europe, America and Japan have agreed to consider lifting the atrocious subsidies they provide to their farmers which had come to represent the greatest suspicion developing countries had about globalisation. The devil is in the details, and it is these details that will keep the negotiators busy during the Doha round of negotiations that will now commence in right earnest.

While the Indian negotiators have done well to defend the interests of India’s farmers – for many of whom are subsistence farmers – the focus of Indian policy must move away from the defensive to the offensive. Indian farmers can compete in global markets like their counterparts in the software, textile and automotive industry; but for this to happen, massive investment is required in the rural infrastructure sector, especially in irrigation, transport and power sectors. The key implication of the Doha round is that it is likely to do to agriculture what the previous round did for telecommunications (that made the software and BPO success possible). As the world moves towards a free-market in agriculture over this decade, India must ensure that there is a free-market for farm produce within its borders.

For a government that has come to power on the face of promises to create employment in the rural areas, this is a tremendous opportunity. All of Dr Manmohan Singh’s other failings may well be easily forgiven if he is able to concentrate the efforts of his government to this one issue.