“Off-Center Stage”

“Off-Center Stage”

Flattering as it might be for NEMA – in its role as Chairman of the Zero Tariff Coalition — to be invited to sit on a panel, there remains the reality of getting through the thing, and so it was with last week’s Global Business Dialogue event on India, free trade and World Trade Organization negotiations.


The guest of honor from the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) did his best to indicate that he had been invited to the wrong event.  Back home in New Delhi: they don’t understand the relationship between Western proposals to lower industrial tariffs and advance liberalization in various sectors; there is concern about low-quality, second-hand products being dumped on them: India needs to be permitted some “flexibilities” when it comes to implementation of any agreements; and of course the West has to do more on “Mode 4” issues – ie, make it easier for talented or rich Indians like him to obtain U.S. visas.  Besides, the Subcontinent has hundreds of millions of farmers, and thousands upon thousands of small businesses – and they can’t just be left to starve.


I tried to be gracious.  CII used to have its U.S.-office housed at NEMA and is an old friend.  U.S.-India relations have entered an important new era and our industry strongly supports the bilateral Civilian Nuclear Deal.  We further appreciate the moves that the Indians have made in recent years to unilaterally reduce some of their rather high tariffs. 


But the American translation of all the English words used by the CII rep is quite simply that “India doesn’t want to open anything and doesn’t believe in free trade”.  NEMA doesn’t just support reciprocal free trade in electrical and environmental goods (the latter as per an important joint Washington/Brussels proposal in late 2007) because our members stand to profit, but also because access to our sector’s top quality infrastructural equipment goes hand-in-hand with greatly improved standards-of-living and competitiveness.  What has helped China (the country everyone including India is really scared of in all these free trade pow-wows) really boom in recent years is not just its greater exports, but its greater imports as well.  All those final products “Made in China” are often enough comprised of raw materials and components from elsewhere – which is why the traffic jams at Chinese sea ports run in both directions.


The respondent from the U.S. services sector basically echoed my concerns in his own white collar terms.  The U.S. farm rep left bountiful room for maneuver, muttering something about his sector only supporting free trade if the export benefits exceed losses from phasing out our own domestic ag cosseting.  And during the Q&A our Indian visitor came around to flatly saying his country would only support tariff negotiations with no tangible results, and is opposed to all sectoral liberalization initiatives.   


Ah yes it was an honor to be there, but I’d have rather played piccolo in Pyongyang.


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