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Hasten slowly in march to globalisation

This has been an eventful week for anyone interested in this thing called globalisation, writes Narayanan Madhavan.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2007 23:07 IST
Narayanan Madhavan
Narayanan Madhavan
Hindustan Times

This has been an eventful week for anyone interested in this thing called globalisation. Like a suspense drama full of strange twists and turns, the plot has thickened to a point where the theme needs a revisitation to clear the air, which is what I propose to do.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has just managed to impose some moderation on the registration of foreign institutional investors (FIIs) in order to regulate the Participatory Notes (PNs) but the regulator has faced criticism for trying to curb the instrument, whereas all that is being done is to formalize the process by which foreign portfolio investment comes into domestic stocks.

There is another piece of news that says India ranks 71st among 72 countries in the list of "globalised" nation ranked by consultant AT Kearney in a study. There are roughly twice as many nations on the globe, but excluding a good half and then declaring a ranking for India is pretty strange.

Another newspaper headline suggests that textile exporters are throwing workers out of jobs because the rupee has become so strong that the exporters are losing their competitiveness.

And Commerce Minister Kamal Nath has been worried about European Union-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that campaign against Indian goods on the ground that they break norms against child labour.

It is very clear that the word 'globalisation' is a short-hand word for anyone to interpret anything, based on their own definitions.

Washiongton-based 'Foreign Policy' magazine which partnered with Kearney on the Globalization Index survey cites "economic, personal, technological, and political integration" as the yardstick for globalisation.

I remember a breakfast with writer Arundhati Roy at Hyderabad a few years ago, when I was there to cover a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) summit which was obviously pro-globalisation, while she was herself attending the Asian Social Forum, a jamboree of activists opposed to it.

"I am for globalisation of human rights," she declared in her famously soft but equally firm voice.

Now, with the Foreign Policy magazine talking of "personal" globalisation and "political integration" I am beginning to think there are others who have their own definitions.

Globalisation has its origins in the idea that companies take their investments to the best places, produce their goods where it is most cost-efficient and sell them where they are most profitable.

About 25 years ago, before the Uruguay Round of world trade talks happened, trade was about merchandise goods and only later were services included. Slowly, fiscal issues have come into play in defining what fair trade is. It does not help that the subsequent Doha Round has stalled on the question of agricultural subsidy, which the US Administration is not ready to slash enough.

So, if it is okay for Washington to defend its farmers, why cannot India protect its textile workers?

For now, both the UPA government in New Delhi and the Bush Administration in DC have to worry about approaching elections.

Perhaps it is wise for the UPA to take a leaf out of the Republicans and do its own dance on globalisation and hasten slowly on measures that could unfairly damage farmers or vulnerable sections.

It is perhaps better to export one's one definition of globalisation, than import another one's.

First Published: Oct 25, 2007 23:02 IST