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Activism

Feb 20, 2004
Arun Jaitley’s insider-view

Knowledge and service are the twin platforms on which India’s success is being built. Jaitley narrates how, until Indian pharma companies jumped in, AIDS ravaged African countries were paying an average of $10,000 a patient per year to West’s drug companies. When companies like Cipla went over with an astounding offer at $300 per patient per annum, they were first accused of IPO violations, and when that didn’t stick, prices suddenly dropped to $1200 an year. Indians retorted by going down to $240.

Of all the distortions in world trade indulged in by the West, the most stark are in agricultural subsidies. Jaitley is fresh from the Cancun battle where he won the day by dint of diligent homework. He says, the US has 2 million farmers and Europe about 5 million. To protect them, various subsidies are heaped on them that make their produces unbeatable in price by India’s half a billion-plus farmers. Lack of world markets combined with domestic surpluses are depressing realised prices [And yet, how often we hear demands for taxing farm incomes in India]. West also practices deceit by giving hidden subsidies in the guise of preserving the environment, livestock, leaving the land fallow and so on.

Jaitley nails the US thus: just about 25,000 farmers grow cotton there. But since they are subsidised to the tune of $3.6 billion, they are closing out four African countries, where cotton is the only crop and millions are breaking their backs growing it. It is India that is giving voice against such injustices.

We are seeing of late how the US is protesting the BPO phenomenon. Would we soon be hearing noises about ‘exploited’ Indian knowledge-workers? Jaitley notes with a chuckle that increasingly, legal drafting work is being outsourced to India. GoodNewsIndia wonders when we would be drafting US legislation. We could then build in some true world-trade, worthy of Adam Smith.

This amusing but true story may well sum up the way East and West would be placed in the emerging world: in the immediate days following 9/11, when there was a huge shortage of flags to wave by US patriots, presses in Hong Kong and Taiwan made a killing working three shifts.

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