India has blocked a landmark trade treaty, the first global trade reform since the creation of the World Trade Organization 19 years ago. This collective action problem demonstrates the constraining character of previously dominant political and economic games. Policymakers everywhere are seeking to restructure the state so that it can play new roles in the future (Cerny, 1995) of global governance. India, included.
On the one side, a firmly held conviction that the decisions that ministers reached in Bali (2013) cannot be changed or amended in any way — and that those decisions have to be fully respected. And on the other side of the debate some believe that those decisions leave unresolved concerns that need to be addressed.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was on a visit to India, told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that India’s refusal to sign the trade deal had undermined the country’s image.
India says it is willing to sign a global trade deal, but just not yet. The country’s unresolved concern is food security. India’s new nationalist government has insisted that a permanent agreement on its subsidised food stockpiling must be in place.
My view is that the multilateral trading system is important not just to support economic growth and development, but also to deal with global issues of governance. However, domestic politics matter, for either side. The reality is Indian incomes are increasing rapidly, but not as rapidly as one would infer from official labor income data and growth statistics (Piketty, 2014). Food security is a supreme national interest.
The possibilities for collective action through multilateral regimes have increased, but these operate at least one remove from democratic accountability (Cerny, 1995). As Putnam (1988) puts it, it is fruitless to debate whether domestic politics really determine international relations, or the reverse. Think about it. The answer to that question is clearly, “Both, sometimes.”