LE MONDE ECONOMIE, May 23, 2011
By Pierre Jacquet
Chief Economist, Agence française de développement.
Pradeep Mehta is an Indian activist and intellectual who has contributed in an original way to the development of his country.
Born in 1948, he devoted his career to a rare form of engagement, in particular by founding, in 1983, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to consumer protection, CUTS International (Consumer Unity & Trust Society).
An anecdote shows the underlying idea for the creation of CUTS: some of the founders discovered that the matchboxes they used did not contain the indicated number of matches, so they decided to check whether this was a simple manufacturing defect or a systematic deficiency. Therefore, and after going through a number of obstacles, CUTS made it possible to lodge a complaint for dishonest practices.
CUTS thus defends the rights of the poorest and see this as a fundamental contribution to development. The Jaipur-headquartered CUTS has now four other offices in India, as well as representations in Zambia, in Kenya and in Geneva, and employs more than 85 people for a budget of 1,25 million dollars (885 000 euros).
According to the poverty reduction philosophy that moves CUTS, one of the keys to the empowerment of the poor is their access to information about the products, practices and policies implemented to improve their living conditions.
Hence, CUTS founders started by placarding a monthly newspaper on the walls of public places of villages of Rajasthan (in particular the post office, often the only federal institution represented) in order to inform the people about their rights.
ENGINE OF DEVELOPMENT
Currently, CUTS and its founders are major actors of policy-making in India and acknowledged contributors in the debates around competition policy, trade policy and the World Trade Organization.
CUTS in particular created two international centres of excellence dedicated to the promotion of trade and sustainable development (1996), on the one hand, and to competition, investment and economic regulation (2003), on the other hand.
The NGO promotes competition policy as an engine of development outside of India, in particular in Africa, through a programme dedicated to international trade, where the world’s most reputed academics exchange views about the difficulties faced in the multilateral trade negotiations of the Doha Round.
At first sight, CUTS can be considered similar to consumer associations from industrialized countries , which play a crucial role as well in informing and defending consumers. Yet its focus is sometimes different.
Few other consumer organizations are thus committed to advocate competition law, trade liberalization and consumers’ access to imported products, thus associating the effectiveness of social policy to an effectively regulated, competitive economy. All things considered, the experience of CUTS clearly illustrates the role of civil society in designing effective economic policies in an emerging economy where poverty remains widespread.
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