New Delhi: Domestic politics in the United States will prevent the stalled Doha round of trade talks from concluding before 2013, a top Indian official said on Friday, days after Washington declared the talks “deadlocked” and called for a new approach.
Big differences between developing and developed countries have bedevilled the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks, which were launched in late 2001 in the Qatari capital with the goal of helping poor countries prosper through enhanced trade.
“Doha is stuck. The question arising in everyone’s mind is where do we go from here?” Rahul Khullar, India’s trade secretary, told reporters.
“It is clear that it is not possible to conclude the Doha round by the end of 2011,” he said. “It is also crystal clear that it is not going to be possible to do it in 2012 because one country is going to go through a very long, drawn out election at that time,” he said, referring to the US.
Khullar was addressing a media briefing in the wake of a sharp attack by Washington’s ambassador to the WTO of what it said was India’s restrictive trade policy in areas such as farm tariffs, delivered in a speech in Geneva on 14 Sept.
Both sides have crossed swords several times during the last decade of talks in the Doha round. In a sign of a possibly worsening atmosphere, Khullar called Michael Punke’s speech “rude” and said India would not be pressured to change its Doha agenda.
The negotiations have seen numerous deadlines come and go amid basic disagreement over rich-country farm subsidies and access to developing-country markets for manufactured goods.
After a failure to clinch a deal this spring, WTO director general Pascal Lamy tried to get the 153 member states to agree on a lesser package of reforms that could help the least developed countries (LDCs). That effort also failed.
“For two years ... the US has not allowed the talks to go on,” Khullar said.
“What you are seeing today is people jostling for position to determine what the agenda will be.”
Washington is asking the major emerging economies like China, India and Brazil to make more generous offers that reflect their tremendous growth in exports over the past decade.
Last week, the United States said WTO members should acknowledge the 10-year-old Doha round of trade talks is “deadlocked” and begin charting a more “credible path forward.”
India has expressed its willingness to discuss new ideas that Washington wants but does not want it to ignore the original Doha development agenda.
Early this month, Europe’s trade chief accused the United States of turning its back on a free trade agenda due to misguided domestic political fears.
A group of 50 world economists earlier this year urged US President Barack Obama to take action to advance global trade and work for a deal on the Doha round of trade talks.
Former WTO director general Peter Sutherland told Reuters in May that the end of 2011 was the final deadline for the round because of the US presidential election campaign in 2012 - a no-go zone for trade talks.