The Nairobi Surrender: Modi government capitulates to the USA and the EU

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At Nairobi the dismal failure of the Modi Government to legally defend the rights of the people of India and other developing countries is nothing but an abject surrender. The Modi government failed to live up to its initial grandstanding at the Nairobi Ministerial. India failed to be firm with the developed world. The cost of this surrender cannot be hidden by merely expressing disappointment at the outcome. The Modi Government is only trying to hide the compromise made at the expense of legitimate development concerns. As at Paris,  where the Modi Government compromised in the Climate Summit Conference after a single call from Obama, India has again chosen to cave in to the pressures from the US and the Economic Union.

At Nairobi, India chose to surrender the only instrument that it had as a bargaining chip by agreeing to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The TFA is nothing but an import facilitation agreement. In the World Trade Organisation (WTO) India had the option to tell the developed world  that,  since you are not ready to  negotiate the Doha agenda we will not be implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement. In the WTO the accepted practice goes along the principle of “Nothing is agreed till everything is agreed”. The Modi Government needs to explain how India allowed the Trade Facilitation Agreement to be included in the declaration when the developed countries did not keep to their part of the commitments.

After all the noise the Modi Government had made on how the decision reached at Bali on public stockholding was wrong, India has given in unilaterally at Nairobi, without even asking for a quid pro quo in terms of a permanent solution to the public stock holding programme. It is unpardonable. No control or monitoring of the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM), and the mere acceptance of a work programme, means not only infinite postponement of the decision, but also a heavy price that India and other developing countries will have to pay in terms of the virtually unaccountable granting of greater market access. The irony is that the developed world is allowed protection against import surges in the agriculture and food products sector when only four to eight per cent of its population are dependent on agriculture, while the developing countries where over seventy per cent of the people depend on agriculture for their livelihood, are not being allowed by the US and EU to use the SSM to protect their own people. At Nairobi, the US and EU refused to allow negotiations on the issue of their own subsidies for agriculture. In the US, domestic agricultural subsidies have risen from 60 billion to 140 billion dollars. In the developed world the cow gets more subsidy than the farmer gets in India. The Modi Government has chosen to cave in on agriculture – which is not surprising, given its treatment of agriculture. It appears that the Modi Government looked the other way in the WTO at Nairobi so that it could tell the farmers that our hands were tied by WTO! A strong government? Or a weak-kneed capitulation by the Centre after much breast-beating? We must decide.

The “Doha development Round” is dead in the water. There is no unanimity on reaffirming the Doha Mandates, approaches and modalities of addressing the negotiations (Para 30). There is no unanimity on the Doha Structures and architectures (Para 32). There is no reference to the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC), the supreme organ conducting the Doha negotiations. The only reference is to the General Council and Director General of WTO (Para 33). The declaration adopted at Nairobi is effectively the death knell of the Doha Development Round.

India and other developing countries had the option to use the legal rights available in structure of the WTO. Rather than expressing disappointment the Minister should have mobilised the developing countries to prevent the “Nairobi Surrender” from happening.

As if this humiliation was not enough, Para 34 goes on to state that “some wish to identify and discuss other issues for negotiations; while others do not”. The subtle change from “many” and “others” in Para 32 to “some” and “others” in Para 34 not only grants parity to opposing views but also constitutes an open invitation to table all new issues in the General Council (GC). The GC is a subordinate organ to the Ministerial Meeting, and not being bound by a mandate given to the TNC, will be well within its competence to take on board all the new issues. Developing countries will find themselves in no position to stop this.

Even to the deaf and blind, it is clear how the entire process, at the Tenth Ministerial Meeting was opaque, consensus-defying and exclusionary, driven by a few members.  Para 30 redundantly states “We acknowledge strong legal structure of this organisation.” India and other developing countries had the option to use the legal rights available in structure of the WTO. Rather than expressing disappointment the Minister should have mobilised the developing countries to prevent the “Nairobi Surrender” from happening.

If the Modi Government had shown courage and defended the rights legally, the Nairobi Ministerial could have been forced to take decisions by prescribed majorities. If this was not possible the Ministerial should have been allowed to collapse. In the latter case, India would have brought back the Doha Development Round to where it was before Nairobi without any encumbrances, such as of having to accept the exploration of new architectures which involves bringing back all the new issues – investment, government procurement, competition, state-owned enterprises, environment, labour and so on.

All these issues had been raised by the developed countries at the Singapore Ministerial in 1996, but were rejected by India. The Singapore Ministerial was not allowed to include these issues in the Work Programme. India was not afraid of being isolated and stood firm. This time India failed to nip in the bud the process of the new issues.  The Modi Government was timid inside and too intimidated. The Modi government is now shedding crocodile tears. The Minister is expressing disappointment after the deal is done at Nairobi and our interests have been sacrificed. This is of little use to the Indian people.

After Nairobi, India and other developing countries have further increased their cost of participation in WTO on account of the omissions and commissions of the Modi Government. India failed to mobilise other developing countries to exercise the legal rights available to them in the WTO. Unfortunately there was no discussion in the parliament prior to the Minister’s departure for Nairobi. We call on the Indian Parliament to debate the commissions and omissions of the Modi Government at Nairobi and direct the Modi Government to take initiatives to rebuild Southern unity. 

The government should be asked to prepare a White Paper on the WTO negotiations and on the various free trade agreements (FTAs) and autonomous liberalisation to stop further erosion of development policy space so crucial to the realisation of development concerns which include the basic rights to food, employment, education, public health and safe environment. The parliament should take over the power of the executive to enter into international agreements and treaties.

The National Working Group on Patent Laws and WTO call upon the farmers’ organisations, trade unions, mass organizations of students, youth, women, dalits, adivasis and all the other social groups to mobilize the people against further damage being done by the government through executive action in international treaties.

 (The author is the Convener National Working Group on Patent Laws; his email is      

WTO Nairobi Ministerial Declaration




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