Remembering Peter Sutherland, the ‘father of globalization’
When he visited New Delhi in early 1990s, Peter Sutherland called on then-Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in South Block. As the last director general of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), Sutherland chose to visit India to drum up support for the new entity that would soon replace GATT. Opposition to the Dunkel Draft covering the final results of the Uruguay Round (UR) of trade negotiations was intense in India. The Narasimha Rao government, however, made up its mind to sign off on the UR agreement that would create the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Launched in Punta del Este in 1986, UR faced numerous hurdles during its seven years of negotiations. The two trans-Atlantic trade elephants—the US and the European Union (EU)—were constantly fighting on agriculture and other issues. India also severely opposed the entry of services and trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS), among other areas, during the negotiations. To ward off opposition from India to TRIPS, the US and the EU dangled the carrot of integrating the textiles and clothing sector, one of the most discriminatory areas of trade in those days, into the multilateral trade framework.
With Narasimha Rao’s principal secretary Amarnath Varma having already agreed to crucial TRIPS provisions in 1989, when Varma was the industry secretary in the Rajiv Gandhi government, services remained the only black hole. It was still not clear what concrete gains India was going to make in services given the absence of firm offers for short-term services providers from the US and other industrialized countries. India also remained unclear about the commitments that it was going to undertake in agriculture, particularly the public distribution programmes which were cleverly subjected to aggregate measurement of support (AMS, or most trade-distorting domestic subsidy programmes) commitments.
Against this backdrop, Rao told Sutherland that India’s concerns were not adequately addressed in services and other areas. He asked the GATT director general to ensure that there are equitable gains for all members. Sutherland felt uncomfortable when the prime minister abruptly left the room after making that brief pronouncement. That was how international civil servants were treated in those days, unlike now when leaders provide a red carpet.
Sutherland, the combative Irish rugby player and a former EU commissioner, concluded the UR agreement on 15 December 1993 at the official level. Subsequently, for his tough negotiating skills and capacity to hammer on the heads of the US and the EU to bridge their differences in agriculture which ultimately resulted in the conclusion of the UR pact, Sutherland came to be regarded as the “father of globalization”. Countries looked up to him as an honest broker unlike his successors, who were willing to genuflect to the dictates of Washington.
Ironically, almost a quarter century after that meeting with Rao, the former GATT and WTO director general began working on the free movement of people. During a visit to Geneva three years ago, as the United Nations secretary general’s special representative on migration, Sutherland admitted he did not foresee that free movement of people, even the controlled movement of natural persons under the general agreement on trade in services (GATS), will remain hurdled with escalating barriers. He was angry over the escalating immigration barriers erected by the US and the EU in the wake of the destructive crises they had set off in the Middle East.
But his mission to convince the governments for adopting a more humane and humanitarian approach to the issue of migration remained unfulfilled after cancer cut off his existence last week. Of course, the “shithole” approaches to migration in Washington and Brussels any way would not have enabled him to address the burning issue. Nevertheless, Sutherland will be remembered as the most credible director general of the WTO and particularly for his courage to call a spade a spade. Surely, all his dreams of creating a manageable globalization with a human face are evaporating rapidly as nations now race towards free trade and plurilateral (more than two countries) deals. And the push for such negotiations is coming from none other than the country that created the GATT/WTO but is now singularly focused on wrecking it.
Last week, around the time when Sutherland died, the new US envoy in New Delhi, ambassador Kenneth Juster, was making a strong case for a US-India free trade agreement (FTA). “I want to see a US-India FTA… a strategic view of our economic relationship could eventually lead to a road map,” Juster said at Carnegie India, a branch of the US think tank in New Delhi, according to news reports. “India needs to take strategic view of the economic relationship, so a road map to FTA could be laid,” he said. The US envoy also highlighted the need to close the trade deficit between India and the US which is around $20 billion( Indo-US bilateral trade is estimated around $115 billion in 2016). He suggested five pillars for energizing the Indo-US partnership. They include stronger defence ties, a strategic economic relationship, energy and environment, and inclusive development and cooperation in the region. Further, he mooted the prospect of US companies leaving China and setting up shop in other alternative markets such as India. “India can seize the strategic opportunity through trade and investment to become an alternative hub for US business in the Indo-Pacific region,” Juster maintained.
Ironically, these upbeat pronouncements from Washington’s point man in New Delhi came close on the heels of the Buenos Aires meeting when the US blocked India’s core trade initiative to secure a credible multilateral instrument for addressing hunger. It also coincided with the current spate of difficulties faced by H-1B visa holders in the US. But, the US overtures must have raised the spirits of India’s foreign policy mandarins who seem favourably disposed towards Washington.
Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mooted the idea of a free trade agreement with India along with enhanced defence cooperation. It is a strange coincidence that a new triumvirate—Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Narendra Modi—has emerged on the global stage. In some ways, it seems like a defining moment in global politics with three important leaders having almost identical perspectives on issues concerning the current migration crisis. All three are expected to meet the Davos Man representing movers and shakers of global business next week in the Swiss Alp mountains!