It was a victory for globalization. In mid-November, the 142 member nations of the World Trade Organization gathered in Doha, Qatar, and voted to press ahead with a new round of talks. The accord was irrefutable proof that the events of September 11 would not halt the world economy's integration.
But the script for globalization also changed at Doha, thanks in large part to the efforts of one astute negotiator: Murasoli Maran, India's Minister for Commerce & Industry. Previous rounds of trade talks focused largely on an agenda that was set by the U.S. and Europe. But at Qatar, the 67-year-old Maran was bent on ensuring that developing nations--which make up three-fourths of the trading club--get their share of concessions, too.
Western negotiators, acutely aware that the failure of trade talks so soon after September 11 would be a major setback, had no choice but to hear out Maran, even if it meant dragging the talks into overtime. "We didn't come to Doha to capitulate," says Tapan Bhowmick, a WTO expert for the Confederation of Indian Industry, who worked closely with Maran at the summit.
Thanks to Maran's hard-nosed bargaining tactics, India and other developing nations walked away from the Qatar meeting with several important victories. Maran wants the WTO to limit non-tariff barriers to trade, such as U.S. antidumping laws and European subsidies on agricultural products. Such issues are now guaranteed a place on the agenda at the next round of international trade talks. Maran also won developing nations more time to conform to WTO rules on patents and foreign investment. "We all want a strong trading forum, but we want it to be rule oriented, not power oriented," says Maran.
Thanks to his efforts, the WTO will soon allow companies in developing nations to supply low-cost generic drugs for the treatment of AIDS and other diseases in times of national emergencies. India and Brazil, both of which have robust pharmaceutical industries, especially stand to benefit from the decision.
Maran's skills as a negotiator have been honed during a 35-year career in politics, which followed a brief stint as a scriptwriter. The minister may no longer be India's trade negotiator by the time the next round of global trade talks kicks off. But his legacy will remain.
By Manjeet Kripalani in Bombay