New Delhi: Trade ministers made a “breakthrough” on Friday, agreeing to end a deadlock of more than a year to try and conclude the Doha Round of negotiations in 2010, at the two-day New Delhi informal ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Officials will start talks in Geneva on 14 September.
“There has been a breakthrough. The impasse has been broken,” commerce minister Anand Sharma announced after the meeting ended.
Chief negotiators and senior officials at WTO will draw up a process of engagement for the next two-three months and prepare an agenda for action.
Taking initiative: Anand Sharma. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Within days of taking charge of the commerce and industry ministry, Sharma took the initiative to re-energize the Doha negotiations. India had been widely blamed in the Western media for the breakdown of the July 2008 talks on the issue of differences over farm tariffs with the US. The Doha Round is named after the city of Qatar where talks started in 2001.
“This is a victory for India, politically,” a commerce ministry official said on condition of anonymity. “We were unnecessarily blamed for the failure of last year’s talks. With the success of the Delhi round, India showed that it is keen to complete the negotiations.”
While Sharma said that the sequence of negotiations as agreed in Hong Kong will be followed, he added that negotiations in services should also be expedited. During the Hong Kong ministerial meet in 2005, it was decided to adopt a sequential approach in negotiations, with priority being given to agriculture and non-agricultural market access.
“What happened today is a reality check. There is a big political push to conclude the Doha Round. Now it is time to go back to real engagements,” WTO director general Pascal Lamy said after the meeting. Lamy will report on the progress made at the Group of 20 leaders meeting in Pittsburgh on 24-25 September, he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed the breakthrough at a meeting with some of the trade ministers.
“This will uplift the animal spirit of economic agents all over the world,” he said, according to a spokesman of the Prime Minister’s Office. India had an abiding interest in an open, liberal and rule-based global trade regime, he said. He hoped that the success achieved by the trade ministers would help world leaders at their deliberations at the Pittsburgh summit.
However, differences persisted on the process to revive the talks, with the US putting more emphasis on bilateral negotiations to resolve issues at the multilateral forum.
“We believe to get to a successful conclusion, we must reinvigorate the process with sustained bilateral engagement in order to go further,” US trade representative Ron Kirk said. “The reality is we have three failed successive rounds. We believe that creates a fairly obvious imperative to look at other alternatives.”
Kirk went to the extent of saying that any further concessions will be made through bilateral talks. “We believe that is the best way forward for a nation to move beyond public posturing into real hard negotiations necessary in order to bring Doha to conclusion.”
Brazil objected to any attempt to substitute multilaterals with bilaterals. “I would strongly stress to my friends of the developing world that if you want to change it (the Doha Round) to a bilateral process, we can be sure the results will be much worse from the point of view of the developing countries,” said Brazil’s external relations minister Celso Amorim.
“The danger with bilaterals in agriculture issues is that it may isolate some countries. The reason why developing countries have a strong position today is because they are negotiating together,” said Biswajit Dhar, a trade expert and director general of Research and Information System for Developing Countries.
The agreements in the meeting held that the multilateral process should continue to be the main process of negotiations for the strength of its inclusiveness and transparency, while other forms of engagement can work as adjuncts for a better understanding among members. India also supported bilateral engagements while holding that such negotiations should only “feed into the multilateral process”.
The ministers also agreed that negotiations should resume on the basis of the draft reports prepared in December, which are improvements over the July 2008 draft reports when talks broke down.
The chairs of the various negotiating groups have been entrusted to draw up work plans and finalization of texts as well as timelines for the submission of revised offers on services.
Trade ministers also agreed that the work agenda for least developing countries covering all specific issues should be put on a fast track.
Liz Mathew contributed to this story.