The media’s disgust with the South standing up for itself

04 December 2013

India is leading the charge for a very modest proposal here at the WTO which will allow the government to continue a programme to make the ‘right to food’ a reality for its people. The US and EU look determined to block this proposal, even at the risk of derailing the talks.

Yet, to read any media, you would believe it is the Indian delegation which is the problem – stubbornly refusing to be reasonable and risking the end of a trade deal. And, as everyone it seems knows, a trade deal is all about improving the lot of the very poorest.
ABC rails that “India refuses to budge”, the Australian says India has “crippled” chances of a deal, the FT reports on the “aristocratic”, “charmless” and “sharp-tongued nature of India’s negotiator and the BBC describes India’s “hard stance” putting the talks at risk.

And who is India’s difficult stance hurting? The global poor of course. The BBC ends with a quote which sums up the general feeling:
"Not a single human being living in poverty anywhere in the world will be better off if we fail in Bali”
So it was great to read a piece this morning titled ‘US opposition to ambitious Indian program a “direct attack on the right to food”’. The article’s well worth reading in full, covering as it does the full extent of hypocrisy of the Western position and the coverage.
In brief, the article show that the quantity of ‘subsidy’ India will be give under this programme is still dwarfed compared to what the US and EU spend subsidising agriculture. And as an aside, US/ EU subsidies are mostly harmful to securing food security, while India’s are helpful.
But that’s not relevant, because the WTO rules on agriculture are so biased in favour of the rich world that rich country subsidies simply don’t count as subsidies. Simple. 
That’s why, though you wouldn’t pick it up from the press, India has a lot of support here – from Latin American and African countries, as well as social movements fighting for the right to food.
So who is really blocking progress on these talks? The developing world or the rich world?
The bias in the reporting shows the extent to which our media has swallowed the ‘free trade’ mantra. After all, even if India was holding up the talks, even if India’s proposal did exceed western subsidies, even if the India’s proposals did ‘distort trade’, you’d have to be a dogmatic free trader to argue that the right of people to eat is less important than all of these factors.
India has nothing to be ashamed of. 



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