Kamal Nath vows Oxford audience with focus on 'aam admi'
May 4, 2007 - 9:09:51 AM

Oxford, May 4 - Basking in the glory of Indian entrepreneurs striking mega deals to take over British businesses, Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath Thursday said India was committed to a strategy of calibrated economic reforms that did not lose sight of the complexities of its society.

Delivering a lecture at the University College here as part of its Global Trade Governance Project, Kamal Nath said that India's economic achievements had prompted many to declare that India could no longer be seen as a developing country.

'In the past, India has been called a caged tiger, a lumbering elephant, and various other exotic animals in the zoo. I think it would not be boastful to say that today we have moved out of the zoo - and on to the racecourse', he said in the lecture titled 'India and the Future of World Trade Talks'.

Addressing an audience comprising students, many of them from India, faculty members and experts, Kamal Nath said not only was the world's perception of India changing, but India's perception of itself was also changing.

'How an ancient culture engages with the New Economy is one of the most fascinating and exciting developments of the past decade', he said and tempered the enthusiasm of India's rising economic strengths with the need to address serious challenges.

Recalling that some of Congress leaders were 'aghast' when as the finance minister in 1991, Manmohan Singh introduced a package of economic reforms that re-wrote the rules, he said that the calibrated reforms had stood the test of time because they were India-specific and had since become irreversible, despite changes in governments.

Harping on the theme of development reaching the 'aam admi' -, he said: 'There are two worlds: one is the world that is viewed through 'screens' -the laptop, the TV, the mobile phone. But there is another world - the real world beyond the virtual - a world whose many realities do not succeed in seeping through the many screens that have become so part of our lives'.

Better known in the west as a key negotiator in WTO talks, Kamal Nath noted that India was being perceived as 'being difficult' in the negotiations. He has often clashed in the talks with European Union trade commissioner Peter Mandelson.

He said the perception was mainly because 'we cannot afford to jeopardize what we all are seeking: a more balanced, a more just and a more development oriented outcome in the WTO; an outcome that does not perpetuate the structural flaws in global trade, but redresses them'.

India's position in the talks was influenced by the fact that 60 per cent of its people are dependent on agriculture for livelihood. Despite many drawbacks, the Indian farmer, Kamal Nath said, was willing to compete with the American farmer.

'But he cannot compete with the US treasury. We cannot allow what has happened to West Africa to happen to our farmers...Let us not mince words: subsidies are not legitimate economic instruments. How fair is it to 'trade-off' legitimate instruments against illegitimate ones?

'Quid pro quos are fine. But when we are asked to abandon the only defence we have against illegitimate subsidies, and that too on the basis of a promise that these illegitimacies will be dismantled at some point in the future -, don't you think it's a bit rich?' Kamal Nath added.

The minister won a sustained round of applause when he mentioned how the over three billion people across the globe continued to wallow in poverty but were still hopeful of the future.

'They do not know what international economics is, they have not heard of the WTO or the Doha round. But what they do know is that there is a world out there in which a privileged few consumer 20 times more oil, 50 times more energy and 100 times more electricity that they do.

'That is the 'virtual' world. The WTO negotiations are relevant only insofar as they can answer the question: How and then will the virtual and real converge?'

Introducing the minister, Lord Butler, the former head of Britain's civil service and Master of University College, called him an innovator, leader and reformer of India's trade policy who had played a key role in global trade.

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