The problem with President Donald J. Trump is that his decisions seem as changeable and as incomprehensible as his moods. One day Kim Jong Un is “Little Rocket Man” and almost in the next breath, the Supreme Leader of North Korea is a living embodiment of genius. If by the start of the week, Pakistan is a terror state, by the close of that period it morphs into a steadfast ally. This newspaper has not hesitated to call for a close engagement, especially with regard to defence and security, between the United States and India. Both are democracies, and both have comparable numbers of people who speak what passes for the English language to those speaking the distinct dialects of both the world’s biggest democracies. That the White House has as its occupant a Head of State whose temperament changes faster than the weather in England will not result in a change in course of the conviction that both Delhi and Washington need to bond in a manner unfortunately not seen since 1947. However, it must be admitted that taking a ride on the Trump Express can be a harrowing experience. An example is the unfeeling and frankly hostile manner in which US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has made the Trump administration give notice that it is withdrawing the (measly) benefits enjoyed by India as a developing nation under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). The fact that the amount of financial loss involved is less than $200 million does not excuse the fact that Lighthizer’s unacceptably crude and bullying conduct was because of the refusal of the Narendra Modi government to remove the restraints that had been placed on medical necessities such as stents and artificial kneecaps. Sadly, in a bid to assuage the pangs of unrequited greed that have flowed through the pharma and medical industry in the US from such decisions, far too many concessions have already been made to Big Pharma in the US and the EU that have resulted in a steep rise in the cost of several items of essential medication in India. Millions of poor patients have suffered as a result. Many have remained critically unwell and some may have lost their lives as a consequence of concessions already made. However, it is welcome that a line seems to have been drawn by the Modi government, and it is to be hoped that the unfriendly and (let it be repeated) openly hostile action of the US Trade Representative should be responded to by rolling back some of the concessions already made in negotiations with an individual who does not consider the existence of 300 million desperately poor people in India to be sufficient to satisfy himself that the country is not developed but developing. Not that Lighthizer would care about the fact that concessions such as those being demanded on stents may result in multiple deaths as a consequence of cardiac arrest suffered by those who need a stent in a blood vessel, but are unable to afford the same. To the US Trade Representative, ensuring that 300 billionaires in the US make even more money than they do is preferable to the right of hundreds of millions of citizens in a developing country to lower cost medication.
If the global community had a credible human rights enforcement mechanism, it would have taken cognizance of the fact that both EU and US have for long conducted a war against India’s low cost pharma sector. Had this effort succeeded in the manner that its sponsors desired, the low cost of AIDS medication made possible by Indian drug companies such as Cipla would not have been possible. Rather than seek to try and feed the limitless greed of certain corporate interests in the US, India needs to assert its independence of such malign designs by ensuring that while the market provided by this country remains open, any effort at reducing the benefits available to the public will be resisted. Lawyers who belong to political parties need to ensure that they do not participate in efforts by Big Pharma in the US and the EU to use the legal system in India as a means of throttling competition. Once an individual enters public life, it is assumed that public interest and not private will govern his or her actions, including arguing in the courts. It is expected that the Modi government will stand firm against the bullying tactics of the US Trade Representative, and not surrender the vital interests of the people of India to feed the maw of Big Pharma. Another target of Lighthizer is the moderate defence of Indian consumer interests that has been attempted by the Modi government in e-commerce. The country is effectively a colony of US digital giants, two of which (Facebook and Google) scoop up more than 95% of the adspend on digital products, leaving almost nothing for domestic players. A country with a surplus of information technology talent ought not to be in such a position of dependence, but should instead develop its own digital products to compete with global players. The US Trade Representative clearly regards India as an enemy nation, caring little for the immense congruence of Washington and Delhi in vital 21st century interests. Let him do his worst and India will do its best, by rejecting the bullying and blackmail that the withdrawal of GSP illustrates.