Negotiators look to Geneva summit for progress on Doha deal

Negotiators look to Geneva summit for progress on Doha deal

New Delhi: The long pending Doha deal of the World Trade Organization will enter, what some analysts see as, its last lap when negotiators meet in early January to brainstorm on the resolution of differences on all crucial aspects of the multilateral trade deal.

Country representatives will resume negotiations between 10 January and 24 January at Geneva on crucial issues such as agriculture, rules of origin and Non-Agricultural Market Access (Nama). A deal will make global trade easier and force many countries to remove protectionist measures, some of which were introduced in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008.

The latest round of talks comes in the wake of positive political signals from the G-20 meeting at Seoul in November, where world leaders indicated they would try to reach a deal in 2011, and a meeting of the chief negotiators on 6 December in Geneva.

After the last G-20 meeting, the group’s members, in a joint declaration, directed their negotiators at the WTO to engage in across-the-board negotiations to promptly bring the Doha Development Round to a “successful, ambitious, comprehensive, and balanced conclusion" consistent with the mandate of the Doha Development Round. “We recognize that 2011 is a critical window of opportunity, albeit narrow, and that engagement among our representatives must intensify and expand. We now need to complete the end game," the declaration said.

WTO secretary general Pascal Lamy, too, has called for closure. “I call upon all delegations to ensure that your representatives, at whatever level, are mandated to negotiate. At this stage, it is not enough to have answering machines around the table. We are at the point where we must have negotiators, and all negotiators have to be prepared to move out of their comfort zones towards agreement," he said in Geneva earlier this month.

Commerce minister Anand Sharma told reporters at a recent year-end press meet that real progress could be seen on the Doha deal in January. “The agricultural sub-groups have submitted their reports. Negotiations will resume in January," he added.

A commerce ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity said the ministry was cautiously optimistic. “The US attitude has so far not been very constructive. They even want to open up issues that have been settled in earlier negotiations," said a senior commerce ministry official. “We still want to give them the benefit of doubt," the official added.

Anwarul Hoda, professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) and India’s former chief trade negotiator at the WTO, said that if the deal isn’t closed in 2011, a conclusion cannot be reached till 2013 because 2012 is an election year in the US.

“It is a positive thing that there is apparent enthusiasm to close the Doha deal. However, unless countries resolve at least one of the big issue like the special safeguard mechanism cotton or Nama, I cannot have much confidence that they will conclude the agreement in 2011," he said.

Hoda said there has also been no positive signal from the US legislature; the US Congress needs to give “fast-track authority" to US President Barack Obama for resumption of any serious dialogue. “Unless the Congress gives fast-track authority, nobody can seriously negotiate with the US at the WTO." Unlike in India, where the Cabinet approves a bilateral or multilateral trade deal, the US Congress has the final say on any trade deal.

The Doha Round is named after the city of Qatar where talks started in 2001. India had been widely blamed in the Western media for breakdown of the July 2008 talks on the issue of differences over farm tariffs with the US. India hosted an informal WTO ministerial meeting in September last year to break the logjam. Though countries agreed to resume negotiations, much progress could not be made because of the economic crisis and the insistence of the US for greater market liberalization by emerging economies like India and China.