The Telegraph
Sunday , August 3 , 2014
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WTO voice BJP didn’t hear

New Delhi, Aug. 2: The BJP and Arun Jaitley have picked several holes in India’s engagement at the WTO’s 2013 Bali trade conference and contended that the Modi regime’s refusal to sign the trade facilitation agreement was to “right a wrong” done then by the UPA’s Anand Sharma.

However, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch — an RSS constituent — had welcomed Sharma’s exertions and even praised the then commerce minister. When Jaitley critiqued Sharma in a blog shortly after the Bali council in December 2013, he was probably unaware of what the Manch had said.

A Manch press release issued on December 5, after Sharma had addressed the media, argued that India could not be held culpable for the failure of the negotiations and noted that the minister had presented his case for the country “vehemently and aggressively”.

In the release, Ashwani Mahajan, the Manch’s co-convener, said the Centre had “initially shown laxity” on food security and India’s sovereign right to protect its poor.

“However, coming under domestic pressure, it had to harden the stand by putting in black and white that food security cannot be compromised,” he said.

The Manch, listed as an NGO with the WTO, usually attends its meetings. Mahajan stressed the delegates travel on their own, not as members of the government entourage.

Asked about his commendation of Sharma’s stand and Jaitley’s contrary position, Mahajan alleged Sharma had taken the Manch “for a ride”.

“We were happy with his refusal to compromise on food security. The Manch met him before his press conference and said, ‘Don’t budge because we and the country are firmly with you’,” he said.

“But something seems to have happened that night, as a result of which the minister was forced to sign a ‘peace clause’ in wishy-washy language that did not serve our national interests.

“We conveyed our concerns to Jaitley and he incorporated those points in his blog. We are happy our concerns were again reflected in the stand India took in the recent WTO and in the talks the Prime Minister and Jaitley had with the US.”

Jaitley’s blog, being cited by the BJP to shore up the line that it had not done a turnaround on WTO, alleged that the Bali pact had made India’s food security programme “more vulnerable to interference by the WTO member-countries”.

The Manch lauded the BJP’s stand on the WTO. Mahajan tweeted: “Congratulations NaMo! Trade is like a war and trade pacts are war documents. It is better to have no agreement than having a bad agreement.”

Sharma refused to accept the BJP’s charge of bartering away India’s food security interests. “We were able to give a clear signal to the world that while India is prepared to change, it will not accept an unbalanced agreement.”

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