By Our Representative
The Japan Times, Japan’s largest-circulation English-language newspaper, has called Prime Minister Narendra Modi “a man of many contradictions”, who is “frequently criticized for being a Hindu chauvinist”, and is armed with “disavowed parochialism.” Presenting himself as “a leader for all Indians”, Modi, says the daily — which was founded in 1897, and has a tieup with the New York Times’ international edition — appears to be actually guided by narrow nationalism. And for this, it gives India’s refusal to sign a World Trade Organisation (WTO) accord as the most prominent example.
Titled “Intransigent India”, the editorial, published on August 17, 2014 and given No 1 slot on the Opinion page, says, “If nationalism is narrowly defined as the protection of particular vested interests, then Modi’s decision makes some sense.”
“If nationalism is seen more broadly as promotion of the interest of the entire nation, including the perception of a government as being ready to advance larger interests through global leadership in such negotiations, then India’s intransigence does not make much sense”, the daily says, adding, “Coming on the heels of a federal budget that disappointed many by its timidity and piecemeal reform efforts, Modi’s business-friendly image has taken a hit.”
Calling it a “perplexing move”, the daily says, this is all the more surprising as it comes from “a man whose entire record has reflected a commitment to helping businesses.” It adds, “The decision reflected Modi’s personal intervention, a surprising move for a man who has made economic growth the cornerstone of his political programme.”
Saying that Modi “instructed his negotiators” not to go ahead with the deal, the daily quotes a US official, in India for annual strategic dialogue with India, to say that the veto of the trade deal “undermined the very image Modi is trying to send about India.”
The daily comments, “India’s intransigence may have delivered a blow to the WTO from which the organization, already struggling for relevance, may not be able to overcome.” It adds, “The 160 members of the WTO have struggled since 2001 to reach agreement on the Doha Round of trade negotiations. Last December, the group reached agreement on ways to streamline customs procedures, a modest deal that was nevertheless reckoned to add at least $400 billion a year to global gross domestic product and 21 million jobs.”
Pointing out that “details were to be worked out by a July 31 deadline, and there was apparent consensus on that”, the daily says, yet “Indian negotiators demanded a parallel deal that would give developing countries more freedom to subsidize and stockpile food supplies.” The daily underlines, the name given was “food security”, but “more practically” it was “to maintain the political support of farmers and publics accustomed to cheaper food”.
Criticising Modi’s move, the daily says, “All parties to the December accord had accepted the need for a food security agreement, but it was to have been concluded by 2017. In the meantime, Indian subsidies that violate WTO rules would be immune from complaint by other WTO members.” It adds, “A deal may yet be possible, but damage has been done. India’s intransigence has angered many of its negotiating partners, even ostensibly like-minded developing nations.”
Saying that “Delhi was backed in its 11th-hour obstructionism by just Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela”, and other developing nations, including China, criticized India’s decision, the daily says, “More worrisome is the potential damage to the WTO. The organization has been deeply scarred by the failure to reach a substantive deal during the Doha Round. While there are increasing doubts about its viability, suggestions that this failure could sound its death knell are hyperbole.”