Commerce Ministry Discriminates between Public Interest and Business Interest for WTO Summit

October 4, 1999, New Delhi, India

Two leading non-governmental organisations, CUTS and Gene Campaign, have charged the Ministry of Commerce for discriminating between public interest NGOs and business chambers in nominations to the official Indian delegation to the 3rd Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) starting November 30th in Seattle, USA. The government is as usual sending a big delegation of bureaucrats to the WTO meeting. This time it has decided to take businessmen along but has chosen not to include those groups that fight for the interests of the common man.

In a press briefing here today, Dr. Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, New Delhi and Mr Pradeep S Mehta of Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), Jaipur said that several letters from both NGOs arguing that both civil society and big business should be part of the Indian negotiating team , remain unanswered. The Commerce Ministry has not even bothered to reply in the negative. The situation is that the Commerce Ministry has included two members each from CII (Confederation of Indian Industry ) and FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry ) in the Indian team. However , not a single NGO, not even those that the Commerce Ministry has been consulting, like Gene Campaign and CUTs have been included in the official delegation.

Mr. Mehta and Dr. Sahai said that it was quite ridiculous that Gene Campaign and CUTS have not been asked to join the official delegation when these are the two NGOs who have been appointed to the National Advisory Committee on International Trade .
The Advisory Committee of which CII and FICCI are also members, was set up to provide competent, technical expertise and to assist the Ministry in formulating the Indian position for the various subjects that have to be negotiated in the WTO and in international trade. The National Advisory Committee which is headed by the Commerce Minister, was set up in March 1999 after the specific recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce . This Committee made the recommendation after hearing evidence from experts on the poor functioning of the Commerce Ministry and the doubts about in house skills to tackle the many complex, technical subjects like TRIPs that are coming up in the WTO.

Dr. Sahai and Mr. Mehta charged the Commerce Ministry with exhibiting a bias in favour of the corporate sector and big money and against civil society groups where the interests of the ordinary person are anchored. Both Dr. Sahai and Mr. Mehta pointed out that during the Advisory Committee meetings the subject of non-governmental participation in the Seattle negotiating team was discussed. The Commerce Minister, Mr. Hegde, had clearly stated that representative non- governmental members of the Advisory Committee , both from among the NGOs and the industry would be part of the Indian team.

Then came the elections and shortly after that the Commerce Ministry announcement that big business and business groups would be part of the official Indian team but civil society would not.

What is further embarrassing is that while our Commerce Ministry behaves in this fashion, other more enlightened nations like Kenya, Finland, Norway and Denmark have already nominated public interest NGOs together with business organisations to their official delegation. Several other countries are following suit and involving various stakeholders in their official teams for Seattle. In other similar meetings such as the Earth Summit in 1992, the Social Summit in 1995 and the Women’s Summit in 1996, public interest NGOs have been members even of India’s official delegation.

Over 1114 NGOs from nearly 90 countries of the world have asked for a moratarium on further negotiations and expansion of the WTO. India is a strong and vocal supporter of this view. “Given the huge and popular unrest against globalisation and expansion of the WTO’s ambit, India would be sending a very wrong signal by not including representatives of civil society in its official delegation to Seattle”, said Mr. Mehta.

Dr. Sahai added that particularly on the subject of TRIPs ( Traded Related Intellectual Property Rights) which is the most contentious issue of the Seattle meet, Indian NGOs are recognised to be a dominant force . They are in the forefront of the international movement to articulate and protect the interests of developing countries. It is a matter of great regret that the Commerce Ministry has chosen to deprive the Indian team of the strength of its civil society. For further information contact: Gene Campaign..