Economic Diplomacy for Development

The “Deccan Dialogue” is a conference jointly organised by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India and the Indian School of Business on the theme “Economic Diplomacy for Development” on 6th May 2018, in Hyderabad.

Here’s a summary of my remarks in a panel discussion at the conference, the session’s theme being, “Taking economic diplomacy to the grassroots for strengthening development partnership”

Friends, I will use the time allotted for my opening remarks to make three brief points, and pitch with the Conference Organisers for one action at the end!

Firstly, the word “development” in the conference theme, auto-suggests that one sector we should strategically focus on is “agriculture”. Because agriculture engages half of our workforce, with per capita incomes that are just about one-fourth of that of the rest of the professions. For this reason, we should work on raising incomes of the farmers, with as much importance as we give to creating new jobs. On the other hand, providing food security to the growing population of the world is another developmental concern. At a global level, one calculation estimates that we need to produce as much food in the next forty years to feed the people, as we had produced in the last eight thousand years in aggregate. Yes, you heard it right! Can you visualise how daunting the task is?

Growing more food by increasing farm productivity sounds like a simple solution that can raise farmer incomes and feed the world simultaneously. No, actually doing it is not as easy! That brings me to the second point I wanted to make. That solution to this problem lies in elevating the issue to the level of economic diplomacy, the other part of this conference theme, rather than treating it as business-as-usual activity. Because, we need to increase the farm productivity factoring the twin realities of ‘changing climate’ and ‘depleting natural resources’ such as water and top soil. These mega-challenges require collective action at global level and access to technology seamlessly across borders. This requires diplomatic engagements. Also, while the Hon’ble PM has given the call for “Doubling Farmers Incomes” and the Centre supports the implementation with several schemes, agriculture is a State subject and onus of action lies with the States. Given the extent of Agro-climatic heterogeneity among states, the other phrase much-mentioned since morning, “Competitive Federalism” comes into play. Each state must make efforts to raise their farm productivity within the realities of their states and must therefore look for global country or state partners who have natural reciprocal dependencies to enter into sustainable arrangements for mutual benefits.

In this context, economic diplomacy must move beyond the routine Trade & Investment Policies, FTAs etc. These policies and agreements, of course, do lay the necessary foundation. They must also move beyond placing Economic Attaches in the Embassies. Such presence also, of course, we must have, to assist exporters, and we did experience significant progress on this front. The third point I wanted to make is about the role of the Track II Diplomacy, involving the Private Non-Government Sector. Even assuming, global collaborations are done and access to technology is arranged through Track I, at the point where the till hits the soil, to translate these agreements into income for the farmers and products for the consumers, it is the private sector that has to play a crucial role. Just more production won’t be enough, robust value chains must be built. Chains that transmit demand signals to the production system and for linking the produce to the markets with minimal waste. To facilitate management of production and market risks. To process and add value. Even to help Governments identify reciprocally beneficial global partners relevant to each ecosystem. And so on…

Finally, I would like to pitch for one action before I close: Since morning there has been a lot of chatter about formalising Deccan Dialogue along the lines of the ‘Raisina Dialogue’ in Delhi and the ‘Gateway of India Dialogue’ in Mumbai. I urge this forum to create a permanent Agricultural Track in the ‘Deccan Dialogue’ in Hyderabad to carve out a niche position for itself.

Thank you 😊