The poor can buy Barbie dolls

Removal of QRs and the fate of the poor

Published on Zmag, by Vandana Shiva, not dated (must be considered as still valuable!).

When the French peasantry was reeling under a severe famine and Marie-Antoinette was told that they had no bread to eat, she nonchalantly said, “If there is no bread, let them eat cake”.

When thousands of our farmers are committing suicide, when millions of our women and children are facing hunger and starvation, a leading economist said that, “The poor can buy Barbie dolls”. This statement was made when I was on a T.V. panel with him to discuss and debate the impact of the removal of import restrictions (Quantitative Restrictions or QRs)

We were discussing the disastrous impacts of free flow of products into Indian markets on small scale producers and farmers. A video clip had been shown of the 100,000 lock makers in Aligarh whose units were being shut down as cheap locks from China were flooding our markets. Import of agricultural commodities like edible oils have already destabilised the agricultural economy and with 147 more agricultural items removed from the restricted list, other sectors will be hit. The removal of QRs has been celebrated by the media as a consumer bonanza. Sample one of the headlines – “Johnie Walker, fine wines in 2 weeks”, “The consumer bonanza”, “The Indian consumer has finally been crowned king” “The brand India will be wearing: Overcoat – Dolce & Gabbana, Scarves – Hermes, Belt – Calvin Klein, Skirt – Margaretha Ley Escada, Pullover – Chloe, Diamond Necklace – Van Clef and Arpels”.

The diamond laden lady is not the typical Indian consumer. Most Indian consumers are already consuming less than their basic needs require as livelihoods are destroyed, incomes disappear and purchasing power evaporates. Cereal consumption has declined by 12% in rural India during a decade of reforms. As imports further destroy livelihoods, especially of the poor, their consumption levels will further fall. No one is addressing the declining consumption of the poor as imported goods drive out domestic production and livelihoods. And when the issue of survival of the poor was raised, our worthy economist stated seriously, “the poor can buy Barbie Dolls”.

It is this mindset of elite India blind to the growing hunger and destitution of the people of this country but enthralled by the junk that can now be imported, which is fooling the country about the reason and impact of lifting QRs. Among the unrestricted imports are carcasses of sheep and goats, offal (animal waste parts) of chicken, sheep, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, hares, swine.

We have opened up our markets to meat imports when Europe is in crisis because of Mad Cow Disease and the Foot and Mouth Disease. More than 500,000 animals are being killed and burned …

… However, the U.S. is itself violating international obligations such as backing off the Kyoto Protocol to regulate CO2 emissions though it is the biggest polluter. Responsibility is two way lane. And the lack of responsibility being shown by the U.S. in respecting international commitments should have been used by India to gain space in setting policy that ensures her people’s survival. In any case, India is arguing for maintaining QRs in the review of the Agreement on Agriculture. It should have maintained QRs as a right.

It is also arguing for a livelihood and food security exemption from the rules of the Agreement on Agriculture. Instead of defending the livelihoods and food security of the country, the Commerce Minister has threatened the survival of the Indian people, especially the farmers twice over firstly, through removing restrictions on imports and secondly by announcing an agribusiness centered export oriented policy for agriculture. This “farm-to-port” export policy is a recipe for corporatisation of Indian agriculture. It will undermine our food security. Farmers loose markets by imports of artificially cheap products due to removal of QRs. They will loose their land, their water, their homes as corporations take over Indian agriculture to grow flowers and vegetables and fruits and shrimps for exports, with state support.

The Commerce Minister has through his EXIM policy committed India’s markets, soil and water as public subsidies to global corporations. Barbie dolls might flood super market shelves soon but how will the poor be fed if they have no livelihoods? How will farmers survive when both markets and resources have been snatched away from them? (full long text).

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