The Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations is unlikely to be completed before 2014, according to Indian commerce secretary Rahul Khullar.
“The US goes into election mode in 2012. In 2013, the new administration will take over. You will be lucky if it (Doha) happens in 2013. My guess is we are looking at 2014,” Khullar said on Tuesday, while speaking at a seminar organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Developed countries lack the appetite to take up any multilateral trade agreement because of domestic economic issues, he said. Many countries in the euro zone are facing a debt crisis and the pace of the US economic recovery has been slow, Khullar said.
Mint’s Asit Ranjan Misra says the Doha round of talks may not conclude anytime soon, with commerce secretary Rahul Khullar suggesting it could take up to 2014
“It was pretty clear from mid-2009 that until the great recession played itself out, there was going to be no appetite in the developed world for taking on any trade agreement, because they are completely overtaken by” the impact of global economic uncertainty, he said.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) ended its biennial ministerial conference on Saturday with its chairman citing an improved atmosphere in the 153-member body, but failed to mention any concrete development on the Doha Round of trade talks.
Crisis factor: Khullar says that until the recession played itself out, there wasn’t going to be any appetite in the developed world for trade deals.
Conference chairman and Nigeria’s trade minister, Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga, acknowledged in a statement that the negotiations were stuck, with “significantly different perspectives on the possible results that members can achieve in certain areas”.
The Doha Round of WTO talks is named after the capital of Qatar where talks started in 2001. While negotiations broke down in July 2008 because of differences between India and the US over farm tariff levels, the major bone of contention since then has been the US demand for tariff cuts by emerging economies. The US is demanding a substantial reduction in tariffs by emerging economies such as India, China and Brazil in industries including chemicals, industrial machinery, and electric and electronic products.
Emerging economies are resisting the demand, citing unilateral tariff cuts that they have already undertaken and the Hong Kong declaration that categorizes sectoral negotiations as non-mandatory.
Khullar said the failure to put together a package even for the least developed countries is a big disappointment, adding that the developed countries have a lot to answer for regarding this.
Khullar said there will be increasing pressure on WTO in the future to take up new issues such as energy security, food security, environment and labour, and on its members to join plurilateral pacts that are agreed among just a few countries.
Speaking at the WTO ministerial conference in Geneva on 17 December, commerce minister Anand Sharma had opposed attempts to negotiate issues among a few members. “This path is fraught with risk. Plurilateral agreements are a throwback to the days when decisions taken by a few determined the future of the rest,” he said.
Anwarul Hoda, a professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations and an expert on WTO matters, said countries can oppose plurilateral agreements only within the WTO, but not outside it. “India should join such agreements wherever it gains. There is no harm in it,” he said.
Though plurilateral agreements are a “sub-optimal option” compared with multilateral agreements, “with 153 member countries in various stages of economic development, it is difficult for everybody to join in every trade deal,” Hoda said.
Reuters contributed to this story.