Agra: World Trade Organization (WTO) director-general Pascal Lamy said on Monday that even though the completion of the Doha negotiations wouldn’t be possible this year as originally envisaged, an early harvest agreement through successful negotiation of issues where consensus is possible could be completed at a meeting of WTO members that begins in Bali on 3 December.
Lamy, who is set to retire from his post in August, however, opposed the suggestion by academics to change the basic structure of WTO, which currently depends on a consensus among its 157 member states for completion of any talks. He was addressing a press conference in Agra at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Partnership Summit.
The Doha Round is named after the capital of Qatar, where talks started in 2001. While negotiations broke down in July 2008 on differences between India and the US over farm tariff levels, the major bone of contention this time is the US demand for disproportionate tariff cuts by emerging economies.
The US is demanding complete elimination of tariffs by emerging economies in sectors such as chemicals, industrial machinery, and electronic products. However, emerging economies are resisting the demand, citing unilateral tariff cuts that they have already undertaken and the Hong Kong declaration that categorizes sectoral negotiations as non-mandatory.
While deep tariff cuts in industrial products and reduction in fisheries subsidies are not possible by this year end, consensus could be reached on issues such as trade facilitation, an agreement on agricultural tariff reduction, tariff quota negotiations and India’s proposal to keep public stock holding for food security purposes out of the subsidy reduction programme, Lamy said.
Biswajit Dhar, director general of Research and Information System for Developing Countries, said the mandate for the Doha round is an outcome of a political agreement and can only be changed through a similar process. “Changing the agenda mid-way is not a technical issue. It is always difficult to decide the priorities in such cases. The big countries will always try to cherry-pick,” Dhar said.
Academics, including Arvind Subramanian, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, have called for “de-democratizing” the WTO, so that a small player cannot hold hostage negotiations in a particular field.
“WTO negotiations have direct impact on people’s lives. Legitimacy of trade negotiations has to be established,” Lamy said, adding the consensus-building exercise under WTO is a difficult and complex process, but the alternative of majority voting is not an option.
Dhar said there is no alternative to the consensus-building process in WTO negotiations. “It is unfair to say concerns of the small countries are any less important than that of the big countries. The idea is against the thought of multilateralism and is unacceptable.”
Asit Ranjan Mishra is attending the CII Partnership Summit 2013 as a guest of CII.