"Agriculture in India will never suffer"

  • 14/06/1994

On the government's information campaign:
We have to deal with a great deal of disinformation about GATT. We have launched a counter-campaign to present the right picture. We are organising seminars, workshops and taking up public contact programmes and distribution of literature on how Indian farmers will benefit from GATT.

On farmers' rights:
There are 3 issues concerning farmer's rights. First, whether he can use his own seeds. Second, whether he can use it for subsequent cultivation, and, third, whether he can sell seeds. My answer to all these is: yes.

What farmers cannot do is sell branded seeds. But even now, most farmers get their seeds from neighbours and not from commercial firms. There is no question of accepting UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties).

On intellectual property rights on microorganisms:
Is there any model in the world available for protection of microorganisms? If you ask me, none. Even in the US, the laws are subject to 2 Supreme Court rulings. When we develop our model, we will look into this very carefully.

Our agricultural scientists are second to none and we have nothing to worry even if big companies open up shop here. We have tremendous prospects for seed exports. According to M S Swaminathan, India can capture 25 per cent of world seed market.

On the export scenario:
I must point out that the reduction in subsidies and export tariffs was directed at developed countries. They were to ensure a market for developing countries. So, it is to our advantage. Besides, comparatively, Indian agricultural products will be cheaper because of low labour cost and other reasons. This will give us a clear competitive edge in the world market.

Agricultural production will never suffer in India because we have a large domestic market with considerable shock absorption capacity. Developed countries are worried because their domestic market is very small.

On health and sanitary conditions as non-tariff barriers: I must clear this great misconception regarding who was responsible for introducing agriculture in GATT negotiations. The developing countries brought this issue in. V P Singh in 1986 had urged for agriculture to be included in the GATT negotiations because "agricultural trade was no longer a competition between efficiency but between subsidies". The US-EC wrangle on subsidies came later on.

We want non-tariff barriers to be removed completely. When WTO (World Trade Organisation) comes into force, if a member country feels that its commercial interest is being jeopardised by an action under this provision, it can be taken up with GATT. Likewise, if the US takes action against us under Special 301, we can get redress from GATT.

But otherwise, standard of health is important for all of us and cannot be compromised.

On the exemption on account of balance of payment:
Two issues have been raised in this context: first, that it is the IMF which will decide about the Balance of Payment problem; second, what happens when we lose BOP cover?

Is it not the job of IMF to determine the BOP problem? IMF has done it since it was created. Nothing is new about it. Second, if we lose BOP cover, then we have a tariff schedule to regulate the import of agricultural products. So, even if you open up, you still import by paying a duty. GATT has already accepted our tariff schedule, which includes 100 per cent import duty on cereals, 150 per cent on food products and 300 per cent on edible oil. If we have a surplus, who would like to import forcefully?

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