12: Indian Attitudes to Trade - from our experiences
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.
For more information and ways to support Indian community initiatives: see www.salt-of-the-earth.org.uk and www.actionvillageindia.org.uk.
C&C has been developed and promoted by the Global Commons Institute. See www.gci.org.uk
The Age of Consent by George Monbiot
Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann 2002
Complexity Theory by Shamir Rihani 2003