New Delhi: India sent out mixed signals on Wednesday on the future of the Doha Round of world trade talks ahead of a mini ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it will host in New Delhi during the first week of September.
While commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma said there is a real possibility of some dynamism returning to the negotiations by September, commerce secretary Rahul Khullar expressed scepticism about any progress if the recession-hit world economy doesn’t turn around in the next few quarters.
No new processes: Commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma. Subhav Shukla/PTI
“We want to take the Doha process to a successful conclusion. We have the political will to take the process to its logical conclusion,” Sharma said.
However, he reiterated India’s stand on the multilateral negotiations. “It must take into account the legitimate aspirations and concerns of developing countries,” Sharma said at a conference organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).
“We have uppermost in our minds the legitimate livelihood concerns of our farmers, which we are determined and committed to uphold,” Sharma said, adding that the interests of Indian industry would be protected as well.
The Doha Round of negotiations, launched in 2001, have been stalled since July 2008 when a trade ministers meeting in Geneva collapsed because of differences between the rich and developing nations, mainly on the level of protection for farmers in developing countries.
The commerce and industry minister said that the focus should be to “re-engergize and not to reinvent” the Doha process. “Finding new processes is not acceptable to India,” he said.
Biswajit Dhar, director general of Research and Information System for Developing Countries, a think tank, also does not expect India to soften its stand on contentious issues. “The US wants India to concede more, but that is not possible because there is no counter offer from the US till now,” he said. “In the US, without a brief from the Congress, US authorities cannot negotiate. So it is important to first wait to see what mandate the new US administration gets from the Congress. It is possible that the Democrats could behave in a more protectionist manner.”
India has led recent efforts to revive the Doha Round of negotiations. A recent comment by the commerce and industry minister that the impasse had been broken was seen as a softening of India’s earlier stand under his predecessor Kamal Nath.
India is also convening the informal mini ministerial meeting of WTO which will be attended by the US, the European Union (EU), Japan and other developed countries, apart from the Group of 20 (G-20) nations. US trade representative Ron Kirk and EU trade commissioner Catherine Ashton, as well as WTO director general Pascal Lamy are expected to attend.
Commerce secretary Khullar cautioned against over-expectation.
“Trade negotiators in some countries have moved since the last dialogue. Ambassadors in Geneva have also changed. Chief negotiators in some other countries are going to change. Some countries are also going to elections. These are practical considerations why negotiations may not move at a breakneck speed,” he said.
Khullar added that given the global economic downturn, which has caused unemployment to increase, selling a big idea will be difficult if a quick revival does not take place.
Dhar agreed. “The US is worried about its economic revival. The European Union has also made it clear that they cannot yield more. So the recent engagements are basically aimed at telling the world that the Doha Round is not dead. But achieving any real progress is very unlikely,” he said.