Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)

West Bengal State Level Project Launch Meeting
Kolkata, May 13, 2005

CUTS-Calcutta Resource Center (CUTS-CRC), GRANITE project partner for West Bengal, organised a daylong meeting at Rotary Sadan, Kolkata on May 13, 2005 to launch the project in West Bengal. The inaugural session of the meeting began with the welcome address by Santanu Banerjee, Adviser, CUTS-CRC followed by inaugural address by R K Sharma, GRANITE Country Project Manager, CUTS, Jaipur, project overview by Dalia Dey, CUTS-CRC and keynote address by Dr. Asish Ghosh, Director, Centre for Environment and Development. The panellists were from civil society organisations (CSOs), academics and quasi-government organisations. More than 100 participants from all over the state attended the meeting. The participants were representatives of government, civil society organisations, farmers’ groups, artisans’ groups, representatives from research organisations, faculties from Universities and media.


The objective of the meeting was to formally launch GRANITE project in West Bengal. It also aimed at bringing all the direct and indirect stakeholders to a common platform, to discuss the opportunities and challenges in the sectors of agriculture and textiles with reference to West Bengal.

Key addresses in the inaugural session

Santanu Banerjee, Adviser, CUTS-CRC

With a note of welcome for all, he briefly described the activities of CUTS.R K Sharma, GRANITE Country Project Manager, Jaipur

  • Stated that globalisation is a fact in contemporary world and there is need to understand the political economy of the process and to undertake capacity building of the negotiators so that India could reap maximum benefit out of the whole process. Focusing on the overall objective of the project he said that the agriculture and textile sector absorbs the maximum workforce of the country. Thus, policies for these sectors are likely to affect the largest section of the population.
  • Stated that the abolition of the quota system in the textile sector from January 2005 is likely to open new avenues for increasing the global trade share in apparels and garments sector in particular, and textile sector as a whole. India is yet to understand the hidden challenges and scope in the post-quota regime. Government also has the responsibility towards traders to build their capacity and create an enabling environment so that they could compete in the international market.

Dalia Dey, CUTS-CRC, Kolkata

  • Explained the rationale behind the project. Addressed the role and importance of the civil society in developing a strong advocacy mechanism to influence the policies as well as policy-makers of the country she also pointed out the constraints that are barring these organisations working at the grassroots from playing such a pivotal role.
  • Highlighted the activities planned under the project. These were reachout meetings at the district level, formation of State Reference Group (SRG), media workshop and preparing advocacy documents to lobby with the government. These will help develop a diverse network consisting of grassroots civil societies, media and government officials with proper understanding of the WTO issues.
  • Informed about GRANITE’s quarterly newsletter entitled as ‘Making Things Happen’.  The objective of the newsletter would be to spread current news relating to WTO and international trade and economics. It would also bring into limelight the opportunities and threats for the stakeholders of the project.
  • Explained the expected outcomes of the project in terms of bringing about pro-poor changes in the Foreign Trade Policy of India and formation of the Trade Policy Councils at central as well as state levels. This will ensure that the real benefit of globalisation process percolates to the poorest of the poor.

Dr. Asish Ghosh, Director, Centre for Environment & Development

  • Expressed the importance and the complexity underlying the mechanism of WTO. He stated that the literature available on WTO is in English and also complicated for the common man to follow. In this context activities under GRANITE will demystify these issues and also disseminate them to people at the grassroots.
  • Explained the background of the formation of GATT and WTO with focus on India being one of the founding members of GATT. He also discussed amendment of Patent Act of 1970 and Seed Bill.

Highlights of the panel discussion on Agriculture sector

Moderator: Dr Jayonto Basu, Journalist and Environmentalist
Panellists: Dr Debal Deb, Director, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, Barrackpore and Swapan Ganguly, Paschim Banga Khet Majdur Sabha, Kolkata

  • WTO will open up a new dimension in international trade if the rules are followed properly. The rich countries quite often do not perform as per the commitments made under the agreements, which results in misinterpretation of the rules under WTO.
  • Biopiracy and simultaneously wrong use of genetic engineering skills can be a serious threat for the nations. This should be combated at the time of its initiation. The safety nets should be strengthened so that the farmers can be protected and the state should ensure efficacy of the guiding mechanisms at the grassroots level.
  • WTO cannot be held solely responsible for every disaster or catastrophe. In the era of globalisation, agriculture has benefited to a large extent. Technical upgradation has taken place and that has lowered the requirement of the workforce. Medium and large cultivators have moved towards mechanised farming. Planning mechanism should be sufficiently strengthened so that this excess workforce would be able to get alternative earning avenues.
  • While negotiating at the WTO, linkages between trade and other social issues, viz., environment, labour rights etc. have to be kept in mind. Ignorance about such interdependent subjects may prove to be fatal in future of incase implementation of national policies.

Highlights of the panel discussion on T&C sector

Moderator: Mita Dutta Coordinator CUTS-CRC
Panellists: Alok Goswami, President, Embriodery and Garments Hi-tech Manufacturing Association (EGMA) and Bani Sraswati, Secretary, Sreema Mahila Samity (SMS)

  • Expressed confidence on the skills of the indigenous artisans and argued that the material produced by them is capable of competing in the international market. They admitted that the sector has potential to generate huge employment and is capable of earning foreign currency. But the sector is suffering due to lack of efficient marketing channels and high cost of inputs. In the post-quota regime they expect that the sector will get greater marketing opportunities.
  • Traditional handloom products are loosing their popularity in the domestic market. The reasons are twofold; high price and problem of maintenance in comparison to the synthetic ones. Inefficient cooperative system is one of the reasons for the high input price. This has resulted in a higher price of the end products making these out of the reach of the common mass and which in turn causes reduction in market share. A mechanism for a fair and uniform price of the inputs would enable the weavers to enter into price competition in domestic market.
  • Powerloom is emerging as an eminent competitor to the handloom sector. Handloom weavers are facing serious threat from the powerloom sector which is fast picking up the designs that earlier only they generated. In addition to these the production of the power looms is five times higher than that of handloom and being cheaper they are rapidly capturing the textile market both domestic and international.
  • Discussions took place on the unorganised ready-made garments sector in the Metiaburuz area of West Bengal whose products are of international quality and have huge export potential. This sector is still operating through the age-old hundi system. They expressed concern that the benefits of high price of their products are not percolating to the ultimate producers. The panellists stressed on the need of organising the workers of this sector and also expanding the sector. Institutionalised financial and marketing assistance are the prime necessities.
  • EGMA proposed that the state government should establish an apparel park for harnessing the export potential of the ready-made garment sector in the state.