India is determined to reach a deal in the long-running Doha round to free up world trade and believes that patient negotiation can narrow the remaining gaps, the country’s new trade minister Anand Sharma said on Friday.
Sharma said trade ministers meeting in Paris this week had agreed to resume negotiations by building on the work of recent years, where much convergence had been achieved.
“After the Indian elections, natually there is a visible keenness on the part of our interlocutors to re-engage,” he told reporters. “We have also reaffirmed unambiguously India’s commitment to take the Doha process to a successful conclusion.”
Sharma, appointed last month, said ministers had agreed that negotiating texts drawn up in December, ahead of a proposed meeting that was called off at the last moment, would be the basis of further negotiations.
Reaching a deal in the Doha talks was particularly important because of the severe economic crisis, he said.
World Trade Organisation (WTO) members launched the Doha round in the Qatari capital in late 2001 to help poor countries prosper through more trade.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy says the deal is 80 percent agreed, but the talks have stumbled repeatedly and have been in stalemate since a meeting of ministers last July failed to clinch a blueprint agreement.
CLEARING THE UNDERGROWTH
India’s WTO ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia said suspicion had built up since the negotiations stalled in July.
“What these discussions have done is remove the underbrush so now the whole negotiating situation is clear,” he said.
Sharma’s gentler style and professed willingness to sit round a table to find a deal contrasts with his more abrasive predecessor, Kamal Nath, who many trade negotiators say was at least partly responsible for the repeated breakdowns of talks.
Like Nath, Sharma insists that a Doha deal must meet the needs of developing countries, especially their millions of subsistence farmers.
“That doesn’t mean that whatever the gains are, they are going to be confined or restricted only to the developing countries. Developed and the rich countries also stand to gain.”
He said the global nature of the negotiations meant they could only succeed in a multilateral format but that did not rule out bilateral contracts between trading partners, something urged by the United States to find out exactly what is on offer.
Sharma dismissed as premature U.S. calls for India and other big emerging countries such as Brazil, China and South Africa to open up their markets more to foreign goods and services.
“We say that countries have to sit together and find a way forward for the successful conclusion. Unilateral concessions before meaningful negotiations will not take us anywhere.”
On one of the issues on which last July’s meeting was deadlocked — a proposal to allow developing countries to raise agricultural tariffs temporarily to help their farmer cope with a sudden flood of imports, Sharma held out hope for a solution.
He noted the “special safeguard mechanism” was accepted in principle, and said details could be fine-tuned by negotiation.
The instrument was only intended to be used in difficult and unforeseen circumstances, he said, addressing a concern of the United States and developing country food exporters.
Sharma said he intended to invite a representative group of trade ministers to India in the first week of September to add further political impetus to the negotiations, which are expected to resume among ambassadors and official in Geneva before the European summer break.