Monday, September 15, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

India threatens to walk out of meeting
Last-ditch efforts to evolve consensus at WTO
K.R. Sudhaman

Cancun, September 14
Deep divisions between the rich and the poor nations at the Ministerial Conference of the WTO here over a draft declaration stalled progress on the last day with developing nations like India threatening to walk out of the ministerial meeting and rejecting the formulation on agriculture and Singapore issues like trade and investment.

With deadlock persisting, a last ditch effort was initiated at the so-called ‘green room process’ to thrash out differences among trade ministers of 146 nations.

Chairman of the conference, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez tried to hammer out a consensus which appeared very difficult.

India, along with Brazil, spearheading the developing countries’ attack, criticised the draft document saying it threw to winds the development dimension of the Doha agenda producing a one-sided text to push only the concerns of EU and the United States (USA).

Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley expressed disappointment that the revised draft had ‘arbitrarily disregarded’ views and concerns of developing countries and warned that the text did not lend itself to any meaningful dialogue.

Mr Jaitley, after giving a detailed and point-by-point reaction to the text at the heads of delegation meeting before the green process started, said three issues in the draft needed to be addressed, or else India would walk out of the ministerial.

The first of the three issues was that a proposal to reduce tariffs on a number of farm products to between 0 to 5 per cent for developing countries should be removed particularly when the distortions against which such tariffs were supposed to compensate were sought to be enhanced like domestic support.

Secondly, Investment rules and competition policy, the two key Singapore issues, should be kept out of the negotiating table. This issue should be resolved first before taking up other differences in the draft text, Mr Jaitley said.

He also wanted removed the provision of expansion of tariff rate quota in the text. Developed countries impose a quota on imports of certain goods at concessional tariffs.

Mr Jaitley said the export cut subsidies in developed countries should be in all products and not in selected products as suggested in the text.

Expressing disappointment over the draft for ignoring several concerns expressed by India and many developing countries, Mr Jaitley said, “I note that the pretence of development dimensions of the Doha agenda has finally been discarded confirming the apprehension expressed by me at the plenary session that this is mere rhetoric.”

On agriculture, not only were the distortions prevalent today being perpetuated, but a slew of new measures to increase such distortions were being proposed, he said, adding ironically the special and differential treatment had been provided in favour of developed countries instead of developing countries.

“We still believe that this conference must be brought to a successful conclusion. We hope that circumstances and environment will be created to enable us participate constructively,” Mr Jaitley told the heads of delegation.

He said the draft had very little for developing countries on the contentious issues of agriculture as it favoured the EU and unbundled Singapore issues as advocated by the United States.

After several of the Trade Ministers spoke against the draft, Mr Derbez said he understood that ministers wanted to put their positions on the record and that did not worry him.

But he was concerned whether the ministers were willing to let the process fail. Agreement was needed in order to give the world economy a boost and if the meeting failed the only winners would be the enemies of the trading system.

Describing this as once-in-a generation opportunity, Mr Derbez warned that if Cancun failed, the negotiations might take a long time to cover, he said.

Mr Derbez and WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi would start consultations with smaller groups of ministers called green room process. The Chairman would reconvene the heads of delegations meeting later.

The deep divisions between North and South on agriculture and Singapore issues has portended tough negotiations in the green room and opposition from the developing countries could leave the Cancun meeting without a final agreement on the declaration.

The deadlock also poses a risk of the five-day meeting failing to establish a platform for the new round of negotiations, called the development round.

US officials warned that this outcome would damage the global economic recovery. But others insist a delay in setting out the negotiating specifics would be better than a bad agreement, which the present draft is particularly to developing countries.

The draft has only led to a new form of resistance to industrialised countries and demands by big nations in the developing world, including India, Brazil, China and South Africa, who along with several developing countries, have formed a formidable group on agriculture which has now swelled to 23 with Turkey and Nigeria joining it.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amrom said, “The text is very far from the point where we must arrive.”

Civil societies have labelled the text as a sharp slap in the face of an array of developing countries. — PTI


Meet may be extended by a day

Cancun, September 14
With no progress to break the deadlock between developed and developing countries on contentious agriculture and Singapore issues, the ongoing WTO Ministerial may be extended by a day and there is a strong possibility that trade ministers might agree to meet again in Geneva in March next year to thrash out the differences. — PTI

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