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Setback for India at Seattle

SEATTLE, Dec 3 (PTI) — India suffered a major setback as the USA bulldozed its way to set up a working group to include contentious core labour standards in the WTO agenda despite stiff resistance from New Delhi and other developing countries as trade ministers from 135-member nations were engaged in eleventh hour all-night negotiation on the third day of the ministerial conference here.

The four-day ministerial conference Chairman, US Trade Representative Charlene Brashefsky, exercising her veto set up the working group headed by Costa Rican Vice Minister Anabel Gonzalez to discuss proposals for creating a labour standards within the WTO or a body operated jointly by a number of international organisations to look at the issues.

The Indian delegation led by Mr Murasoli Maran, which questioned the legality of the setting up of the group, was first informed that the group was only informal in nature and after vehement protests by India and several other developing countries including Pakistan, Brazil and Morocco the group broke up but only for a shortwhile before it was formally set up in spite of stiff resistance.

The difficult talks, however, progressed in many other areas like agriculture, implementation and rules, Singapore agenda and other issues including market access and systemic issues.

With sharp differences persisting on labour standards, environmental protection and implementation issues, WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell said "never underestimate the potential for breakdown. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed." She, however, sounded optimistic saying the delegates had made progress on a variety of issues but admitted that the talks were still at a "delicate" stage.

Ms Brashefsky, along with leaders of the individual working groups and WTO Director-General Mike Moore was putting various sections of draft proposals into one text for consideration by the committee of the whole before adopting it.

A WTO press statement said the dispute over farm subsidies has been settled following a draft agreement on agriculture trade sent to Ms Barshefsky by Singapore Trade Minister George Yeo who headed the working group on agriculture.

On labour standards, a contentious issue that led to violent protests outside the conference venue, particularly on the opening day on November 30, the USA appears to have agreed to an EU proposal to set up a forum outside the WTO to discuss the issue. But India and several other developing countries rejected the proposal outright saying it would lead to its abuse for protectionist purposes.

Mr Maran said there was a political consensus within India and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had categorically said in Parliament that there could be no compromise on this issue as cheap labour was one of their few trading advantages.

Any attempt even indirectly to impose labour standards would be opposed and India was determined not to repeat the past mistakes as in the case of intellectual property rights at the completion of Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations in Marrakesh in 1994.

Come what may "we will resist inclusion of labour standards. We can’t take even a drop of poison," Mr Maran had told reporters.

The Chinese delegation led by Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng who met Mr Maran also said that China holds that those issues that are not related to the functions of the WTO such as labour standards should not be incorporated into the agenda. back

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