India optimistic about Geneva meet, but remains firm on stand

India optimistic about Geneva meet, but remains firm on stand
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First Published: Wed, Jul 16 2008. 10 48 PM IST

Concrete stand: Commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath.
Concrete stand: Commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath.
Updated: Wed, Jul 16 2008. 10 48 PM IST
New Delhi: India expects a World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Geneva next week to make progress but has the option of walking out if it does not get what it wants, Union commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath said on Wednesday.
Concrete stand: Commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath.
Last week, WTO mediators presented revised proposals in the core areas of agricultural and industrial goods trade, which they said contained fewer options for ministers to consider after negotiations had narrowed gaps on technical issues.
“I am hopeful this meeting in WTO will lead to progress and closure, and I am optimistic,” Nath told a news conference. “Of course, we have a full option to walk out. There can be no agreement unless India agrees,” he added.
Ministers from around 30 countries will meet to try for a long-awaited breakthrough on agriculture and manufactured goods in the Doha trade round.
The Doha negotiations have lurched from missed deadline to missed deadline over the past seven years, with rich and poor countries and exporters and importers bickering over how much markets should be opened up or protected.
Nath said he would go to Geneva ahead of the meeting to hold talks with China, Brazil, the US and EU. He would then return to India for a confidence vote in Parliament on 22 July and rejoin the meeting after the vote.
In his absence, the ministerial meeting will be attended by commerce secretary Gopal Pillai. Nath said liberalization of services in this round was a key component and he had made it clear that India would not be able to show flexibility unless it got a good package on services.
“Services are extremely important and unless binding commitments are made by developed countries, there can be no agreement on the Doha development round. I have made it categorically clear,” Nath said.
Many believe next week is the last chance to push the talks forward before a new US administration takes office in January. Developing countries want rich nations to open up their markets for food, and reduce protection for their farmers by cutting tariffs and subsidies. In return, rich countries are seeking a bigger share of the growing markets for industrial goods and services in emerging economies, through tariff cuts and liberalization.
Nath’s stance on most issues remains unaltered and on Wednesday he reiterated that protecting India’s subsistence farmers was key for New Delhi’s interests.
“We are concerned about the sensitivities in our agriculture, our sensitive products and our special products.
“This has not yet been agreed to, but unless we get the package we want on special products where we are able to protect the sensitivities of our livelihood farmers and subsistence farmers, there is nothing we can agree to in other areas.”
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First Published: Wed, Jul 16 2008. 10 48 PM IST