Nath: Speaking Up for India

Kamal Nath is India's Minister of Commerce & Industry, a position that due to India's rising prominence in global trade—both as a coveted market and a growing power in agricultural and industrial production—makes him an important figure in international affairs. Since assuming office as commerce minister in 2004, he's become the voice of the globe's developing countries in World Trade Organization negotiations. He brings the same perspective to the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos and similar high-powered international conferences. He spoke with NEWSWEEK 's Jason Overdorf. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What differences have you seen in the world's power elite, as represented by the attendees at Davos, the WTO negotiations, and similar events?
Kamal Nath: The constituents at the head table have changed. Where the WTO is concerned, the most important thing is that the manner of negotiations has changed. In the last round of the WTO, there were just 10-to-12 countries who got together, and the other countries never had a voice. It was decided by 12 countries, and everybody else had to fall in line. Today, in the consensus building process, developing countries have not only a voice, but a loud voice.

Why do you think that is?
With the changing global economic architecture, the mass of economic activity is shifting. At Davos, twenty years ago or even ten years ago, the invitees were mainly from the US and Europe, and it was for interaction between them. Today, many of those who are coming from Europe or the United States are coming for interaction with those from the East.

Do you also find that government actors are losing prominence and private actors are becoming bigger players?
As the GDP of countries—the growth of GDP in developing countries—gets more and more driven by the private sector, obviously the private sector assumes a voice which is pretty loud.

From your own agenda, I know you represent India, so that's obviously your main focus, but what else do you see as your role in these forums?
In these forums, it's not only the concerns of India, but the concerns of other developing countries also, which helps keeps the coordination among developing countries so that fragmentation does not happen.

You've emerged as one of the main negotiators for developing countries. Do you find that in these forums, forming relationships with the other attendees becomes very important in pushing your agenda forward?
A personal relationship is an important ingredient in negotiations, and there's an element of trust and greater sensitivity to fairness. And it can be very frank.

Apart from negotiating for the interests of the developing world in trade negotiations...
That is one part of my job. The other part has been really the India story—the investment story and the credibility of India. WTO is only one part, a very small part. For example, I went to Chicago for a trade policy meeting, and there were people there from agriculture, commerce, treasury. I asked them, how do you see the agriculture position globally. I know you share many views. How do you see agriculture in the world? And they said, you know we are very worried, we are thinking of putting reserve land in the US into agriculture.... These are things that are very important.

Now private players are playing a much more important role in shaping international policy, aren't they?
The biggest example is that every president or prime minister that comes to India is coming with a business delegation. He's coming with his trade minister, his industries minister—that's why I'm so stressed, because I'm the one who has to deal with it. Same thing with our prime minister. When he goes to another country, he goes with a trade delegation. It's an understanding that the business communitY are the players. The government can be the facilitator, but the players in economic growth are different. The government is only a facilitator and an enabler.

Does it raise concerns that the perspective of the poor will be lost in our rush to create more capital?
I don't think so. I think that the level of those who are in power think beyond their own profit. They also recognize that the growth of their economies and their country is necessary for the growth of their own company.