The Cost of Free Trade:
The WTO Regime and the Indian Economy *
It is indeed a privilege to have been asked to deliver the EMS Namboodiripad memorial lecture and I thank the organisers for it. Two years ago, after EMS (as he was referred to affectionately by everybody) passed away in March 1998, there was a memorial seminar held in June at Perintalamana in Malabar, the town which is within a short distance of EMS's ancestral home. I read a paper on this occasion, which was specifically on EMS's writings on the agrarian question, in particular how his famous Minute of Dissent to the Commission on Malabar Tenancy Reforms, was informed by the Marxist theory of ground rent. This has been published in a recent issue of Social Scientist.1 In that paper the concern was with the contradiction within the agrarian economy between those who monopolise landed property and those who derive a livelihood from the land.
In today's lecture I propose to talk about another very important contradiction which is fast maturing - that initiated by the liberalised trade and investment regime under the earlier loan-conditional structural adjustment programmes from the late 70's as applied to the developing nations, and strengthened further with the current WTO discipline imposed after the signing of GATT in 1994. All of this, I would proceed to argue, is part of a new onslaught by the advanced capitalist countries (following their own economic interests), on the Third World countries' attempts to follow growth trajectories best serving their peoples' development and welfare. In talking of this emerging new contradiction I would like first to discuss briefly the historical experience of trade-liberalized regimes, and refer
* Centre of Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal University, New Delhi.
* * The First EMS Namboodiripad Memorial Lecture 2000 at New Delhi
Social Scientist, Vol. 27, Nos. 11-12, Nov. - Dec. 1999