New Delhi: Michael J. Delaney, who was in India last week for the first time after taking over as assistant US trade representative, told Indian officials that an early resumption of the Doha Round of talks of the World Trade Organization was in everybody’s interest. Though he didn’t disclose the US’ position in the next round, he said there was more scope for success than failure. Edited excerpts:
You are visiting India at a time when there is a change of guard in the White House. Will a Democrat president mean anything different for India?
There is a long-standing bipartisan tradition in the US of respecting existing trade arrangements. It is beyond my imagination to think that would alter in any future administration.
Flexible approach: Michael J. Delaney, assistant US trade representative, says Doha is still alive but ‘we are just not moving forward’. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Does that mean the new government will be following more protectionist policies than the previousadministration?
Well, I have never heard “protectionism” from any of Barack Obama’s advisers. America is a very open economy.
What is the objective of your current visit to India?
I have only recently been appointed to the office of Central and South Asia affairs. I have several purposes of coming here. One is an introductory and familiarization visit.
I am (also) carrying the message that we would very much like to re-engage in Doha talks sooner than later.
For those who think this is a very difficult process, and we are not even close to any kind of resolution, we would respectfully disagree.
How soon do you think Doha talks could start?
We are anxious to re-engage as soon as possible, in very short term, this year.
When you talk about re-engagement, are you referring to a ministerial-level talk?
Yes, we are talking about the chief negotiators.
You must have met Indian officials. What is their response in this regard?
We have not got a definitive response until now.
What is your view on the stand taken by developing countries in the latest Doha Round of talks that have failed?
I think failure is too strong a word. Doha is still alive, we are just not moving forward... I don’t want to comment on the position on any one group of countries or any country in particular...(with) a little more flexibility to get this across the finishing line, we would all be beneficiaries.
But the main contentious issue was the special safeguard mechanism...
(interrupts) Well, that is one of them, yes.
Has the US changed its mind on that front?
I am not going into individual positions or what might be a country’s position...there are workable compromises.
But if there are talks tomorrow, will the US bring a new proposal to the table?
We are here to negotiate...I cannot say what our position would be.
Will it be more lenient than your previous stand?
I don’t want to get into a characterization that way. We feel there is great merit in re-engaging at this time.
What makes you so optimistic that the next round of talks would succeed if the US does not make its stand lenient?
That premises on a hypothetical “if”. If all parties agree to spend a bit more effort and focus on this, there is an excellent chance we can come to an agreement on this issue.
The stand of developing countries has been that though agriculture may be a matter of trade for developed countries, it is an issue of livelihood in their countries. What is your take on this view?
Agriculture is very important to everybody. It is very important to the US. We have a very competitive agricultural sector, (and) so it is very important to us... We are going to have to devise a solution taking into account everybody’s interest.
Don’t you think developing countries deserve better treatment as it is a case of livelihood for millions of people out there?
It is a case of livelihood for everybody, for developing economies and developed economies as well. I think everyone is going to have to benefit from this agreement.
How do you think the current financial crisis would affect international trade?
We are dealing with a weaker US economy. We are going to see weaker overall economic output and contraction in economic activity that will inevitably impact our imports from other countries. Even as we are well on our way to repair the financial system, we now have a problem with the real economy.
We are pretty optimistic at least for the US. In the year 2009 we will be recovering from this.