Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)
Maharashtra State Launch Meeting
Pune, July 30, 2005
The GRANITE Project being implemented by CUTS in eight Indian states is a two-year Project aimed at capacity-building of civil society organisations (CSOs), media, grassroots groups, government officials, etc. to address complex issues of globalisation and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and their relationship with economic development and governance in India. To launch the Project in Maharashtra, Samarthan, the Project partner for Maharashtra, organised a meeting at YASHADA, Pune (State Government’s Training Institute), on July 30, 2005. The meeting began with the inaugural session chaired by Govindrao Adik, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) & former agriculture minister. This was followed by the keynote address by Pradeep Apte, Head of Economics Department, Fergusson College. The session on agriculture followed by inaugural session, focused on ‘opportunities & challenges to the agriculture sector on the background of WTO’. The various experts in the issue, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) & media persons attended the meeting.
The objective of the meeting was to formally launch GRANITE Project in Maharashtra. It aimed at discussing the opportunities and challenges faced by the agriculture sector with reference to Maharashtra.
Rane of Yashada presented a welcome address.
Vivek Pandit, Chairperson, Samarthan shared with the participants the aims and objectives of the Project and why Samarthan decided to work on the project. He expressed his wish of continued cooperation of YASHADA in the future programmes of the Project.
Key Note Address
The following issues were addressed:
- International trade;
- Nature of WTO; and
- Opportunities for farmers in the State.
Apte expressed his expectation about the Project. He said that there is a need for research in this field not from the point of view of state policies but of trade. He opined that there is no need to have different policies for different states in regards to WTO. The need according to him is to identify some specific crops in Maharashtra having international dimension and their import and export competitiveness be identified. He described WTO as an organisation of countries that promotes free trade but has differences among the members on the extent to which such trade to be conducted.
In his speech, he addressed not only the myths about WTO and Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) and tariffs but he also clarified on various issues, such as nature of negotiations, increasing importance of regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), etc.
He also shared that the farmers in Maharashtra have shown more awareness on the quality standards to be maintained for being able to compete in the international market. He said that the farmer is capable of taking the advantage of opportunities.
He argued that in free agriculture trade, India has more competition from developing countries rather than the developed countries.
While responding to the queries by the participants, Apte said that he did not believe that trade distorting subsidies will be reduced in near future. This point was, however, contested. Attention was drawn to the fact that the July Framework at the WTO contains the clause for eliminating the export subsidies in a specific period. He also opined that the reluctance of new generation towards agriculture is also generating pressure to reform agriculture policies in the developed countries, which would ultimately force reduction in the trade distorting subsidies.
Address by Chair
Govindrao Adik in his address said that there is very little awareness about the WTO-related issues, and as a result, myths are being spread. According to him, there are still differences of opinion on the issue of being a part of the WTO. And even these basic issues need to be addressed.
Session on Agriculture
Threats and Opportunities to Agriculture Sector: Sudhir Kumar Goyal, Agriculture Commissioner, Government of Maharashtra
Goyal made a power point presentation on AoA and Government’s agricultural policy.
The highlights of the presentation were:
- Important factors in agriculture production;
- Areas for improvement;
- State relevant issues regarding AoA;
- Measures to be undertaken for increasing the export;
- Coordination between different departments;
- Strengthening marketing system and role of cooperative sector; and
- Important schemes undertaken by Government.
Goyal also answered to the queries of the participants.
Points raised during the open discussion:
- The reasons for declining agriculture commodities in the international market after 1995. How do we view the competitiveness of the Indian agriculture in the present context of declining agriculture prices? Is this decline a part of the regular pattern of behaviour of international market or an aberration? What is the relative contribution of subsidies in the west vis a vis other factors like technology, market integration etc in the declining prices? These issues were raised and debated;
- The devaluation of currency and the erosion of competitiveness of Indian agriculture was another sensitive issue dominating the debate. It was argued that the devaluation of Indian rupee the increased the cost of production of the agriculture commodities as it affected the prices of the petroleum products. This point was however debated;
- Cotton dominated the debate. It was natural as this is the main crop of cotton grown mostly under non-irrigated belt of the poor farmers having strong international dimension;
- Increased imports of cotton in the post WTO period was one of the most sensitive issues. It was brought out that the WTO could not be blamed for this import as Indian Government had the scope to increase the tariff but chose not to do so because of the pressure from the textile mills; and
- Performance of BT cotton in the state was also discussed at length.