New Delhi: India has strongly opposed a proposal by the European Union (EU) and a few other developed countries to include new issues including energy, food security, competition and investment for negotiation at the next World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting.
WTO’s eighth ministerial conference is scheduled to be held at Geneva on 15–17 December.
Expanding negotiations to new areas without a proper framework for conclusion of the Doha Round, which has been lingering for a decade now, will only complicate matters, said an Indian commerce ministry official, who declined to be named.
File photo of Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organization, WTO and Nicolas Berggruen, chairman of the Nicolas Berggruen Institute chat prior to a media conference on G20 in Paris 27 Oct (AP)
Negotiations over the multilateral trade deal that started in Doha in 2001 are stuck because of differences between developed and developing countries. Negotiations broke down in July 2008 following differences between India and the US over farm tariff levels.
In a written reply, a copy of which was reviewed by Mint, an unidentified EU representative in the informal trade negotiations committee on 21 October said it is convinced progress can be achieved on several components from the Doha mandate, irrespective of the impasse in overall negotiations.
EU said issues such as a trade facilitation agreement, improving the functioning of the dispute settlement mechanism, and removing non-tariff barriers could be taken up on a priority basis.
However, the Indian commerce ministry official cited earlier said EU is being selective in its choice of content. “Why not services, why not agricultural subsidies? What is so important about dispute settlement body,” the official said.
Since consensus on broadbased tariff cuts or services commitments is eluding members, it believes WTO “should examine whether results could be achieved through targeted sectoral initiatives, taking the information technology (IT) agreement as a model,” EU said.
The IT agreement is a tariff cutting mechanism on the import of IT products that was initially agreed upon by 29 countries at the Singapore ministerial conference in December 1996. Such an agreement with the consent of a few countries is called a plurilateral agreement.
In addition to setting a way forward in the Doha Round, the eighth ministerial conference must also recognize that the current multilateral rulebook is not adequately equipped to deal with emerging global challenges such as energy, food security, competition and investment, EU said. “The EU has no illusions about the sensitivities that will no doubt arise. But it is clear that the membership can no longer dismiss these challenges as north/south issues or just pretend that they do not exist.”
Terming the EU move as mischievous, the Indian official said the eighth ministerial conference must demonstrate that WTO is more worried about the Doha round.
“It must come out with a work agenda to deliver Doha by 2013. That will give assurance to member countries about completion of the round. Including new issues will mean shifting the focus away from Doha,” the official said.
India is also opposed to plurilateral agreements which it sees as a coercion strategy to force other members to join in later, the official said.