New Delhi, 12 March 2007

An International seminar organized by the Commerce Ministry of India under the banner of ‘Saving Doha and Delivering on Development’ evoked protests from several groups including farmers, students unions and civil society organisations. As ministers, corporate lobbyists, academicians and bureaucrats met in the expensive Maurya Sheraton hotel in New Delhi, hundreds of activists congregated outside the hotel demanding their voices be heard. Reports indicate that 200 activists have been arrested and detained at the nearby Chanakya Puri police station. Those arrested include activists from the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Housing Rights Association, Peoples Campaign for Justice and Sovereignty, Youth for Justice and Slum Dwellers Association. The meeting was co-organised along with groups such as UNCTAD, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Oxfam International, National Council for Applied Economic Research and CUTS International. The intention was to identify the key parameters to serve the so called ‘development imperatives’ of the Doha Round.

Time is not on our side. The credibility of the WTO is at stake and India is a key player to breaking the deadlock, said WTO Director General Pascal Lamy. WTO talks commenced in February 2007 after the July 2006 collapse.

Commerce Minister Kamal Nath in his opening address stated that India will not be party to an outcome that sustained prosperity in the developed countries at the cost of livelihoods of its farmers. ‘A one size fits all approach was not acceptable and we need a genuine development outcome from the talks, he argued.

‘This is empty rhetoric. A development outcome that meets the needs of small and marginal farmers is impossible within the WTO framework. Studies by the World Bank and Carnegie Foundation show that there are no or minimal gains to developing countries from the conclusion of the Doha Round, said Devinder Sharma from the New Delhi based Forum for Bio Technology and Food Security. These studies indicate that per year gains for all 110 developing countries in the WTO would amount to a total of only 35,000 crore rupees. The insignificance of this amount is evident by the fact that India’s Rural Development Ministry has a budget of 65,000 crore rupees a year. ‘This meeting has completely ignored farmers groups in the country’, said Yudvir Singh of the Bahratiya Kisan Union, speaking from the police station where he was detained by the Delhi police. ‘Pascal Lamy, corporate lobbyists and Commerce Ministry officials are sitting together to sell out Indian agriculture’, said Singh.