Textiles Minister's Speech on the World Cotton Day

World Cotton Day, 7 October 2019

High-level Plenary Session – Opening Ceremony

Talking Points for Hon’ble Union Minister of Textiles

 

Chair,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Namaskar,

 

I am privileged to represent India on the occasion of the first World Cotton Day which is being organized at the initiative of the Cotton 4 (C4) – Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. As one of the largest producers and consumers of cotton in the world, India supports the World Cotton Day as an opportunity to recognise the significance of cotton as a global commodity, and, more importantly, as a source of livelihood for millions of small and marginal farmers in developing nations. I applaud and felicitate the C4 for their leadership in this endeavour and thank the WTO Secretariat and other collaborating institutions who have contributed in organizing this special event.

 

2. The history of cotton is intimately linked with the history of India. Archaeological evidence from excavations in the Indus Valley shows that Indians had mastered the art of transforming the cotton plant into fabric, as long as back as 4,500 years ago. For the better part of the past two hundred centuries, India was a leading source of cotton and muslin for the rest of the world. The knowledge and expertise of Indian cotton weavers and artisans has been documented in Greek, Roman and Chinese historical texts. The Romans called Indian cotton “woven air” in praise of its lightness and quality. With the discovery of a new sea-route to India by Vasco de Gama, Indian textiles started to be exported to Europe. 

 

3. However, India’s reign as the centre of the global textile trade came to an end with the colonialization of India. Colonial policy transformed India from an exporter of finished cloth to a captive supplier of raw cotton for the Lancashire factories. The tactics used to systematically destroy the local textile industry were brutal. A system of forced cultivation of cotton was implemented to ensure a steady supply of raw material, often provoking famine in the process. India went from having 27 per cent of the world trade in cotton to less than 2 per cent. 

 

4. Few public figures of the 20th century remain as instantly recognizable to billions of global citizens as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi whose 150th birth anniversary was recently celebrated. No single picture has become more closely associated with Gandhi’s life, his way of life than Margaret Bourke-White's 1946 portrait of the civil-disobedience pioneer beside his cherished spinning wheel.

 

5. Few countries have used fabric as a tool to achieve freedom. The depredations carried out against India’s indigenous cotton industry during the period of colonial rule and the attendant ruin visited upon Indian farmers and artisans, led Mahatma Gandhi to make ‘Swadeshi” or ‘self-made’ cotton and the spinning wheel or charkha, rallying symbols of India’s fight for freedom. And that is the reason why after more than seven decades of India’s hard-won independence, khadi continues to inspire and amaze people around the globe as a humble, sustainable fabric that triggered a powerful national movement towards freedom. Therefore, the central theme of the Textile Exhibition by India at the World Cotton Day is Mahatma Gandhi and his association with the ‘Charkha’ or the Spinning Wheel.  I invite all of you to visit our Exhibition to celebrate India’s great artisanal heritage inspired by the Mahatma.

 

6. The Charkha, the spinning wheel, is symbolic of Gandhi’s ideology of non-violent resistance, self-reliance and a spirit of inter-dependence. It is, therefore, befitting that Mahatma Gandhi has been chosen as the icon for the World Cotton Day! To mark the celebration of the first World Cotton Day, India will gift a replica of Mahatma Gandhi’s Charkha to the WTO.  We have also arranged for a live demonstration of the Charkha as a part of India’s exhibition.

 

7. The Indian cotton handloom industry forms an integral part of the cultural heritage of India. Cotton farming and the domestic cotton textile industry continue to be important pillars of the Indian economy. As a country of 8 million small and marginal cotton farmers, we are sensitive to the challenges faced by the cotton sector in developing nations and have been proponents for the elimination of historic asymmetries and imbalances in WTO agreements that lead to a distortion of global cotton markets. 

 

8. India has been consistently and meaningfully engaging in providing assistance to the cotton value chain in Africa. We implemented a Technical Assistance Programme for cotton in 6 African nations, namely – Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda from the year 2012 to 2018. The Programme was aimed at strengthening both the agriculture and textile part of the cotton value chain in Africa through training and capacity-building of farmers, scientists, government officials and industry representatives and through the creation of cotton-related infrastructure.

9.   India has come of age with a modern textile sector which has been supported with a focus on technology up-gradation by induction of new state-of-the-art machinery. This also promotes investment in textile machinery manufacturing. 100% FDI through the automatic route is permitted in the Indian textile sector. Capital investment has taken place in weaving, processing of fibres, yarns, fabrics, garments, handlooms and other segments. Besides, small textile and handloom units have come up supported under micro finance schemes such as MUDRA. India has also recently reduced the corporate tax from 35% to 25%, and for newer firms, it is even lower at 15%. These changes make our tax rates the most competitive in the world and will give a fillip to FDI ranging from start-ups to larger textile units. These initiatives have given Indian textiles and apparel a pride of place on the shelves of leading retail stores in developed markets including those of Europe and the USA.

 

10. We remain committed to building on our longstanding development partnership with Africa, which is also reflected in the India-Africa Summit Dialogue under which we have a billon-dollar line of credit for Africa. In the field of cotton, we will be announcing the launch of the second phase of the Cotton Technical Assistance Programme for Africa at the Partners Conference today. In the five year long second phase, the programme will be scaled up in size and coverage and will be introduced in five additional nations, namely Mali, Ghana, Togo, Zambia and Tanzania. The Cotton TAP programme will thus cover a total of 11 African nations including the C4.

 

11. Ladies and Gentlemen, today as we celebrate the World Cotton Day, we celebrate a future which is assured to be sustainable, a value chain which enjoys a trade legacy unmatched by any other fibre, a cotton eco-system which will help channel development assistance for cotton for those who need it the most. Indian democracy wove its freedom from cotton and today stands committed to weave a prosperous cotton future for all.  

 

Thank you!

 

 
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