Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)
Andhra Pradesh State Level Project Launch Meeting
Hyderabad, May 16, 2005
Consumer Guidance Society (CGS), Hyderabad – GRANITE project partner for Andhra Pradesh, organised a daylong meeting to launch the project in the state at IACIS, Osmania University, Hyderabad on May 16, 2005. The meeting began with an inaugural session chaired by Divakar Babu, CGS and addressed by A Laxman Rao, Retired Chief Justice, Allahabad High Court and K R Choudary, AP Agricultural University, Bharath Jairaj, Citizen consumer & civic Action Group (CAG), Chennai and R K Sharma, GRANITE Country Project Manager, CUTS, Jaipur. This was followed by two panel discussions on the sectors of textiles & clothing (T&C) and agriculture focusing on the issues with implications for AP. The panellists were from media, civil society organisations (CSOs) and government departments. The meeting was attended by more than sixty invitees including members of ‘State Reference Group’, which is an informal and interactive body at state level, resource persons from the local media, representatives of CSOs, various departments of the state governments, research institutions, grassroots groups, academia and CGS staff.
The objective of the meeting was to formally launch GRANITE project in AP. It also aimed at bringing all the relevant stakeholders to a common platform to discuss the opportunities and challenges in the sectors of agriculture and T&C with reference to AP.
Key addresses in the inaugural session
Diwakar Babu, GRANITE Nodal Person, CGS, AP
- Explained the objectives and necessity of the project. He said that discussion has to be dispassionate, with an objective to bring out opportunities and threats before the public review for optimal response. He cautioned against discussions getting reduced to either or situation in the case of World Trade Organisation (WTO). He was critical of WTO Agreements, arrived at in an atmosphere of imbalanced and power politics.
- Stated that he was not in favour of India coming out of the WTO. Rather it should face challenges, minimise losses and exploit advantages.
K R Choudhary, Retired Professor, AP Agricultural University, Hyderabad
- Explained how Indian political and bureaucratic systems have failed to respond to the needs arising out of India being a member of the WTO. Citing the example of Dunkel Draft, he said that the document was not available to many people and there were no discussions on it either. While a section of civil society did attempt to generate awareness on issues relating to it, there were not many takers in the political and bureaucratic set-up. Today, the situation is a little different but similar attitudes persist.
- Criticised the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) for being biased against developing countries, especially on the aspects related to tariffs and subsidies. While developed countries are being allowed to maintain high rates of subsidies and their farmers enjoy high level of domestic support. Developing countries are being prevented from doing so on account of inadequate domestic financial resources and reform agenda pursued by multilateral financial institutions such as World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Such a difference exists in the light of the fact that unlike developed countries, agriculture is the mainstay of livelihood for a majority of population in developing countries.
- Opined that India should come out of WTO and chart its own independent trade relations with developing countries, as it would not lose more than what it is now being a member of WTO.
Bharath Jairaj, Legal Coordinator, CAG, Chennai
- Emphasised on the need for economic literacy for the civil society groups. He spoke on the issues of economic importance and the need for informed public choice as a weapon for maximising the advantages in the WTO regime, while avoiding any potential losses. Civil society has to promote economic literacy in India and also demystify WTO-related issues and their implications for the common good. Such awareness would help in maximising the gains for the consumers in terms of price, choice and quality of services.
R K Sharma, GRANITE Country Project Manager, CUTS, Jaipur
- Explained the project’s objectives at the national level and the context in which the project was initiated.
A Lakshman Rao, Retired Chief Justice, Allahabad High Court
- Addressed the need for awareness and advocacy on the issues of public interest, especially WTO and related issues. Acknowledging the role of both the sectors as the mainstay of Indian economy, he requested the participants to discuss all the issues threadbare, thereby, reflecting the reality of the country’s situation.
Highlights of the panel discussion on Agriculture sector
Moderator: Bhanwar Lal, Commissioner for Civil Supplies, Government of AP, Hyderabad
Panellists: Niranjan Rao, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad and D Narasimha Reddy, Board Member, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM-Asia)
- Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) covered under Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) include Patents, Trademarks, Designs, Geographical Indications, Plant Variety Protection (Plant Breeder’s Rights), Copyright and Neighbouring Rights, and Layout Designs.
- More civil society inputs are needed on issues related to IPRs.
- Given the philosophy of free trade, there was considerable discussion on whether or not IPRs can be part of WTO. Some participants did feel that IPRs are necessary to promote innovation.
- Consumer interests need to be protected in IPR regime.
- Indian agriculture today is in a policy-caused crisis that is likely to deepen. The WTO AoA is biased towards the developed countries. It does not recognise the difference between different agro-forestry zones and the agriculture surrounding such zones. It also suffers from a few implementation related shortcomings.
- Market access problems faced by farmers in AP, especially mirchi farmers, is not due to WTO per se, but due to the unfair trade practices pursued by the traders who influence the pricing pattern given the weaknesses of the farmers.
- Several problems linked with agricultural crop marketing in India are not due to WTO agreements and need to be looked into.
- Factors such as change in food consumption patters of consumers, dependency of farmers on rainfed crops, etc. are leading to a crisis situation. There is need for the consumers to change their food consumption pattern to encourage farmers to grow foodgrains.
Highlights of the panel discussion on T&C sector
Moderator: Satya Nagesh Ayyagary, Financial Express, Hyderabad
Panellists: T R Kolanu, Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad and Soumya Vinayan, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad
- The competitive position of Indian textiles is attributed to its vast domestic fibre base, cheap and skilled work force, established allied industries, significant yarn & fabric capacity, and manufacturing flexibility. Within the sector, knitwear industry has its own importance due to its high growth prospective in the global market.
- Cheap labour cannot be considered as strength in the competition.
- Social issues should be part of any studies on competition among countries in textile sector.
- Post independent textile policies sought to regulate the unhealthy competition between the three sectors – mills, handlooms and powerlooms. However, popular notions about handlooms are overshadowed by misconceptions, which have often influenced policy makers.
- Policy initiatives under various textile policy statements and recommendations of various committees since 1985 have had an adverse impact on the handloom sector. The sector needs to be promoted as strength of Indian textile production.
Highlights of Concluding Remarks
Naresh Sharma, Faculty, Department of Economics, University of Hyderabad
- While there are several problems arising out of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, WTO is also a potential threat given the imbalances in the world economic system.
- Apart from combating the challenges of WTO through learning, education and joint action, it is also necessary for the government to promote development that is people-friendly and follow the democratic principle of participation in decision-making.
- All citizens should have a life contract to be able to define their consumption patterns towards the livelihood of millions of people dependent on various traditional production systems. Civil society should focus on these aspects in addition to monitoring and conducting advocacy programmes on WTO-related issues.