Does the Indian government's loud voice in international negotiations lead to results? At the recent Word Trade Organisation (WTO) meet in Bali, the Indian government went, with all guns blazing, to defend the rights of the country's farmers and to secure food security for millions of poor people. It opposed the Agreement on Agriculture, which limits government food procurement to 10 per cent of the value of total production, based on prices from the late 1980s. It said this clause would impinge on its right to give minimum price support to farmers and to procure food stocks for its food security programme. It proposed, instead, a "food security" box, which would allow developing country governments to plan and execute food policies. All good.
But the agreement signed in Bali is weak and could have disastrous implications for India's food security programme. It says that the "peace clause" - under which countries would refrain from lodging complaints - will last till a permanent solution is found, and not for the four-year period that was earlier proposed. But it demands, in turn, full disclosure of developing countries' food procurement strategies. Worse, it includes a specific clause on anti-circumvention and safeguards, which puts the onus on developing countries to ensure stocks procured under such programmes "do not distort trade or adversely affect food security of other members". In other words, it reduces the space for countries to protect the livelihood and nutrition needs of its people. There is also a fear that the Bali Agreement on Agriculture only pertains to the existing public stockholding programme and any new initiative will be open to disputes. Clearly, the Indian government succumbed to global pressure and compromised on its position.
In climate change negotiations, matters have still not come to a head. But the Indian government, which has consistently raised the matter of right to development of the poorest in the world and argued that equity has to be the basis of the climate deal, is finding it hard to maintain its leadership. At the recent Warsaw meet on climate change, it was hard-pressed to explain why it opposed the African proposal to operationalise the concept in future negotiations. It has no proposal of its own to table. So, its position was, at best, defensive.
This stalling tactic is obviously not enough. As a result, in these negotiations, developing countries are losing bit by bit. They lose first because negotiations to hold rich polluters responsible are coming to naught. At the Warsaw meet, Japan, Australia and the European Union reneged on their earlier emission reduction targets. Japan, for instance, said that it was not going to reduce emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 over its 1990 levels. Instead, it was going to increase emissions by roughly four per cent.
This is when the world is more certain today that climate change is beginning to show up in the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. At the Warsaw meet, the typhoon-hit Philippine delegation made an impassioned speech about how its country was devastated by these disasters. But afterwards it was business as usual.
The Warsaw meet saw that the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) - which differentiates between countries that have created the climate change problem and others - was further diluted. It was agreed that all countries, including the developing ones, would now have to submit nationally determined contributions to tackle climate change. But there is no mention that these "contributions" - targets to reduce emissions - would be based on CBDR or equity.
So the ground is slipping. India's grandstanding is not working. The question is, why?
In my view, there are two clear reasons. One is that the Indian government is often unclear about whose side it is on. It has competing interests to defend and it cannot make up its mind to stand firm on the side of the poor (whose voice it seeks to be). Take the WTO deal. While farmers may have lost in the agreement, industry has clearly gained. The agreement on trade facilitation also signed at Bali is expected to increase global trade by leaps and bounds - some $1.3 trillion is bandied about. But the deal would not have happened if the Indian government had stuck to its position on agriculture. So something had to give.
In climate change negotiations, the Indian government pushes for justice in the discussions, but it also wants to ensure that its "friendship" with the US remains intact. This is difficult, given that the US is the single-biggest reason why "equity" is a bad word in the negotiations.
The second reason is more prosaic. The fact is that the Indian government is losing the battle of global ideas and perceptions because it does not do its homework or effectively communicate its positions. In all these negotiations, the already rich and industrialised world is getting away with untenable positions only because our government cannot expose them - in other words, it cannot show them for what they really are.
In this way, noise ends in a whimper.