Column: The curious case of diplomacy deficit

Mar 20 2014, 02:48 IST
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SummaryIndian diplomacy has hardly reoriented to focus prominently on economics, trade and commerce

Many things in the world changed with the advent of globalisation. One of these was diplomacy. As commerce became the mantra of connecting to the rest of the world, diplomacies of major powers changed accordingly. With Cold War, strategic isolation and non-alignment gradually becoming passé, the focus of diplomacy shifted to trade and economics. The birth of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) hastened the process, as did other plurilateral initiatives like the European Union and the G20 that were primarily based on economic objectives. The redirection of national diplomacies towards earning strategic benefits through economic dividends also manifested through the large numbers of regional and bilateral trade agreements signed across the world.

India’s tryst with globalisation has been furtive and impetuous. Many things that have changed significantly elsewhere post-globalisation have remained unchanged in India. Diplomacy is a relevant example. Indian diplomacy has hardly reoriented to focus prominently on economics, trade and commerce.

Nothing symbolises the lack of ‘economic’ perspective in Indian diplomacy than the several facile trade agreements signed by India. Economic rationale would dictate a country to sign a bilateral or a regional trade deal, if the markets had considerable possibilities for its exporters and importers that, at least partially, were blocked by barriers removable through preferential market access. For an economy like India, such possibilities are expected to be highest with large and globally integrated economies, most of which are its large trade partners. It is, therefore, rather difficult to explain the economic rationale behind India’s agreements with Afghanistan, Bhutan, Chile, Nepal, Sri Lanka as well as the Mercosur group of countries in South America. The only logic behind these agreements appears to be the strategic political benefits and winning ‘diplomatic’ allies. Whether the agreements have actually succeeded in cementing all-weather friendships with these countries is a debatable issue, but given their low economic rationales and shallow coverages, the agreements have hardly produced significant economic benefits for India.

If Indian diplomacy had indeed worked for achieving strategic benefits through economic gains, then by now India should have had bilateral agreements with more than only four countries, as it currently has, among its top 25 trade partners. Except Singapore, Japan, Korea and Malaysia, India does not have bilateral agreements with any of the rest. Ongoing negotiations at the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) and with the EU, and also with Australia and Indonesia, would increase the tally. But these negotiations have a

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