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Step by step, Jaitley sets trade tempo
- Market access must go hand in hand with reductions in farm subsidies

Cancun, Sept. 11: If you can’t dance the cancan high-kicks, why not try the Cancun shuffle'

Commerce minister Arun Jaitley may or may not be an adroit dancer, but he came up with his own version of the shuffle to dictate the pace at which developing nations were willing to match tariff and subsidy reduction measures taken by the rich nations.

“It is only when the developed countries agree to take five steps forward in the removal of trade-distorting subsidies that the developing countries can take one step forward in the area of market access,” Jaitley told trade ministers at the fifth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation that began here on Wednesday.

The rich nations — especially the US and the European Union — have been insisting that developing countries like India and China should commit themselves to a level of reciprocity even as they roll back a part of their agriculture subsidies that have been estimated at over $300 billion a year.

Countries in South America like Brazil and Argentina — where the people are more adept at fast-paced dances like the flamenco and the salsa — are in lock-step with Jaitley’s brand of the shuffle.

“In the multilateral trading system, the concerns of the developing nations must be addressed and their participation must be encouraged instead of forcing them to do things quicker through coercive action,” Jaitley told reporters at a press briefing at the Hotel Presidente International shortly after his address.

Both the US and the EU would like to see the developing nations perform the cancan — a hybrid of the polka and the quadrille — that is believed to have been first danced in France in 1822 before being outlawed for a number of years as it was considered too risqué.

Originally, the word cancan meant ‘scandal’ or ‘edge’ since the dancers usually danced on the edge of the stage.

This time around the developing countries like India and China, which have formed a Group of 21, are collaborating with the 17-member Cairns Group to force the rich nations to the very edge.

The two allies have taken the offensive on the farm issue and have no desire to back down on their demand that the rich nations introduce agriculture reforms before they can expect the developing nations to grant greater market access.

On Monday, Australian trade minister Mark Vaile, who is also the deputy leader of the Cairns Group, had said: “We won’t cave in. We will push them to the very edge.”

History has it that cancan — a dance which many see as the start of public nudity because of the bare legs above the stockings to the frilly panties — was first publicly performed in the US on September 12, 1866, at a public performance of the Black Crook at Niblo’s Garden.

“Farm liberalisation must start with the correction of the distortions that were introduced in the trading system because of the high level of subsidies in Europe and the US,” Jaitley said.

“The legitimate concerns of the billions of farmers in the developing countries, most of them earning less than one dollar a day, cannot be sacrificed to maintain profits of a few millions elsewhere through $1 billion subsidy per day,” he told delegates at the inaugural session.

Jaitley said he was encouraged by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s ringing endorsement of the position developing nations had taken.

Annan had said: “The reality of the international trading system does not match the rhetoric. Instead of open markets, there are too many barriers that stunt, stifle and starve. Instead of fair competition, there are subsidies by rich countries that tilt the playing field against the poor. And instead of global rules negotiated by all, in the interest of all, and adhered to by all, there is too much closed-door decision-making, too much protection of special interests, and too many broken promises.”

“Coming from a person of his eminence, Kofi Annan’s message to the ministerial conference (which was delivered by Unctad secretary-general Rubens Ricupero) only serves to strengthen the stand adopted by the G-21 at Cancun,” Jaitley said.

It remains to be seen whether the developed nations will agree to the two-paced dance — quick for the rich nations and slow for the poor. As of now, they are insisting that it takes two to tango.

If they continue to stick to that position, the whole Cancun exercise could fall somewhere between a charade and a burlesque (which, incidentally, has been described as a “leg show that began as a variety show, characterised by vulgar dialogue and broad comedy, and uninhibited behaviour by performers and audience”).

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