ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

5 May 2002


many of Devinder's articles are now available on the website:
First World and the Underworld


By Devinder Sharma

The background music is gripping, building up the tension among the viewers. The underworld don is pacing up and down. One can see blank-eyed gunmen in every nook and corner. In the centre of the room stands the culprit, with his hands folded and pleading: "Pardon me boss, I will never do this manipulation again. I will never betray your trust. But please spare my life."

The don is not moved. With a revolver in one hand and a cigar in the other, he turns back. The next we hear is a gunshot and the victim drops dead. With no remorse in his voice, the don says: "Let me make it very clear. There is no dishonesty in this trade. The under world operates on sincerity and honesty."

This is a scene from a typical masala Bollywood movie. The underlying message is crystal clear: even the bad guys work with integrity and fairness. The parallel economy of the underworld thrives and grows on trust and mutual confidence.

The underworld certainly provides a lesson for the neo-liberal economists as well as the rich and industrialised economies of the first world that relentlessly and zealously promotes "free trade" as the vehicle for economic growth and development. The don of free trade - who
paces up and down the globe, hand in glove with the corporate executives - has little or no faith in honesty and integrity. Free trade is not about justice and morality, it is all about exploitation and manipulations and that too economically justified.

Ever since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) came into existence on January 1, 1995, the United States -- the don of the first world and the czar of the free trade - has ensured that while the rest of the world complies with the unjust rules framed at the altar of development, no one questions its own violations. Whether it is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) or the Kyoto Protocol, the don has not to be questioned. Even the first world closes its eyes when it comes to the flagrant violations in trade rules being made by the don. Not because it is worried at the physical might of the worldís only superpower, but because it provides them enough leverage to exploit the poor and the majority world.

Whether it is intellectual property rights, the reduction in agricultural subsidies, the trade in agriculture and services, the sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, or for that matter the question of foreign direct investments, rules and regulations have been so framed that the benefit only percolates to the rich and developed countries. If the poor nations violate these rules to protect their sovereignty and food security, they are threatened with trade sanctions and economic isolation. But if the first world makes an exception, it is all justified and that too economically.

Take the case of agricultural subsidies. The WTO had spelled out a phase-out formula for the developed countries. It wasnít followed. Subsidies in turn increased to a whopping US $ one billion a day and still the Fourth Ministerial at Doha simply refused to use the whip against the erring countries. The so-called QUAD countries - the United States, European Union, Canada and Japan - instead managed to provide the developing countries with a lollipop. Returning from Doha, with promises to "phase out subsidies" and to "take into account the development needs, including food security and rural development", the developing countries have adopted a self-congratulatory attitude terming it as a "victory" and a "triumph of sorts". Not realising, that future talks on agriculture would be established "without prejudging the outcome of the negotiations."

The first world subsidies therefore remain protected. But at the same time, the developing world has been forced to open the trade barriers for cheap and highly subsidised imports from the first world. So much so for equality and justice in global trade!

Meanwhile, the European Union - another of the donís cronies - is busy manipulating the WTO rules and framework to ensure that its own turf remains protected. It has introduced a new concept of "multi-functionality" in agriculture to protect its huge subsidies. It has gone to the extent of using its political charms to silence the voice of the developing majority. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair did it on behalf of the don. At the recently concluded Doha Ministerial, the talks would have failed once again because of the refusal of Indiaís Trade Minister, Mr Murlisaran Maran to buckle under pressure. A last minute phone call from Tony Blair to the Indian Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, paved the way for a new round, which in reality means still more exploitation.

There is no end to the ways the first world continues to violate the trade rules with impunity. But that is not the objective of this paper. What we need to know is that deft manipulations and arm-twisting into silence are the only two rules of the game.

As if economically justifying of the wrongs in global trade is not enough, a federal judge in Houston, USA, has spelled out a legal cover. In April 2002, the U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner ruled that under the law, it is perfectly legal for an executive from a U.S company to bribe a foreign official to reduce the company's tax burden or customs duties in that country.

The case involved American Rice, Inc., the largest rice miller and marketer of branded rice products in the United States, selling under names such as Comet and Blue Ribbon. A federal indictment filed earlier this year charged the David Kay, the companyís vice president for marketing, and Douglas Murphy, the companyís CEO, for bribing Haitian customs officials for purposes of reducing customs duties and the tax burden that the company faced in that country. Both were charged with violations of anti-bribery law.

The judge upheld the plea of the lawyers for Kay and Murphy who argued that even if you assume, for purposes of argument, that a bribe was paid to reduce customs duties and taxes, such a bribe is not covered by the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In the days to come, this judgement will be cited as a precedence by the European, Japanese, Australian and the Canadian companies to seek legal protection for their wrong doings.

Corporate world is understandably very happy. So are the don and his cronies. And it isnít surprising that none of the upholders of democracy, freedom and equality have even raised a whimper at the questionable decision of the US federal court. What is still difficult to fathom is that in every meeting on trade and commerce, it is always the unabashed question of trade and governance. Trade can only make a difference if the governance in the developing countries improves, we are invariably and shamelessly told.

Good governance has only to be the hallmark for the developing world. For the first world, you follow the principle of three monkeys, which adorned Mahatma Gandhiís desk: "donít see any evil, donít hear any evil and donít speak any evil."

The don of the first world must have his way.

Itís time for the Bollywood to script a new plot. It is high time for the Bollywood to look into the masala that the don of the free trade,  along with his cronies, generate and that too justified legally and economically. It certainly is time for a new Bollywood blockbuster featuring the exploitations of the don of the first world. Such a plot will surely be filled with deceit and dishonesty, with crime and passion, with sex and glamour and in simple words all the masala that the Hindi films depict. The world is eagerly waiting.

(Devinder Sharma is a journalist and writer specialising in agriculture and trade issues. Responses can be mailed to )

ngin bulletin archive