12:   Indian Attitudes to Trade - from our experiences

James Bruges

E very year, my wife Marion and I  meet NGOs in south India, and I  was brought up in India till the age of  twelve. Maybe these are reasons why,  when updating my Little Earth Book,  I tend to see trade issues from an  Indian perspective. I wish to express  their anger at our hypocrisy. Nothing  new. Britain found India wealthy in  the 17th century and left it poor in the  20th. The west continues to loot the  country. Cletus Babu, who runs an  NGO in Tamil Nadu called Social  Change and Development, said on  parting last year “I have struggled to  achieve change for 25 years and every  step forward is pushed back by global  issues outside our control.”

There are many Indians struggling to  achieve justice for the poor and we  obviously only come across a few.  Cletus’s organisation works in about  400 villages with health, dietary  farming, empowering salt-pan workers  and giving technical help and education. Stan Thekaekara working with  adivasi indigenous tribes has set up a  co-operative trading and distribution  scheme for essential goods, which can  operate outside the national currency  and so be only marginally affected by  economic fluctuations; this scheme  has meant that all get essentials at  considerably below the shop price,  have a market for their produce and  get income from selling locally. Others  we meet are working with women’s  groups, gaining land for the poor and  developing house-plot farming.  However a common theme for all  these organisations is that commodity  prices have been driven down year  after year by corporate globalisation  with a disastrous impact on their  efforts.

We were staying with George Mathew,  a politician who had been an MP in  the Lok Sabha or ‘House of the  People’. He asked why Britain is  wealthy and India poor? India has  industry, minerals, crops, IT intelligence – whereas Britain doesn’t make  bicycles, imports a third of its food  and can’t even run its trains. The  answer must be something to do with  finance: the global money system  keeps poor countries poor. Deliberately. A third of America’s imports are  free, paid for by poor countries; this is  because, after WW2, it established the  dollar as the world currency. It costs  the US nothing to print dollars but the  poor have to send crops and goods  worth $2 billion a day to get dollars  for their trade and reserves. Europe  aims, with the euro, to take over  America’s privilege. Trade liberalisation increases poor countries’ need for  dollars or euros and enables corporations to drive down the price of  commodities and take over local  businesses. Even aid: a £67 million  DFID package to modernise agriculture so that cash crops can be produced for export is displacing 20  million Indian small farmers into city  slums; their deputation begged Clare  Short to cancel the package without  success. Shalmali Guttal, an activist,  said to me “don’t despair, get angry,  anger can lead to change”.

From an Indian perspective, the  measures we talk about are pathetic. A  bit of debt ‘forgiveness’ and never-never promises to reduce subsidies on  our exports. Any benefit will soon be  swallowed up again by the iniquitous  money system. Radical change is  necessary to get out of the cycle of  debt, oppression and terrorism. The  wealthy G8 countries forget that they  all climbed out of poverty by using the  protective measures they now deny  poor countries.

I believe the poor should be allowed  and encouraged to add value locally by  the use of tariffs, quotas, subsidies,  overriding patents etc. Rich countries  must immediately stop exporting  produce that benefits from subsidies.  Capital flows should be under national  democratic control. The currency used  for trade should be independent of  any national currency. And corporations should be subject to mandatory,  not voluntary, fair trade rules and their  licence to trade should be revoked if  they are found to harm communities – the American Founders introduced  this law until corporations fraudulently  overturned it in 1886.

Perhaps the greatest improvement  would come through the proposal,  called Contraction and Convergence  (C&C), that every individual on earth  should have equal tradable emission  rights. People in poor countries would  benefit through the sale of their  coupons to the rich, thus receiving a  basic income. This is gaining wide  support especially in poor countries – and by the Anglicans who appreciate  its moral content; the archbishop said  C&C “appears utopian only if we  refuse to contemplate the alternatives  honestly.”

Cletus Babu says that their new  problem is the hike in the cost of  petrol. Perhaps oil depletion will force  the global community to face up to  the need to move away from usury,  greed and ever-increasing consumerism, allowing each culture to develop  in its own complex adaptive way.

James Bruges

For more information and ways to  support Indian community initiatives:  see and

C&C has been developed and promoted  by the Global Commons Institute.  See

Some references:

The Age of Consent by George Monbiot

Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann  2002

Complexity Theory by Shamir Rihani 2003