While an agreement for a temporary solution on food subsidy at Bali paved the way for the introduction of the food security Act in India, ensuring distribution of cheaper foodgrain to two-third of its population ahead of the general election due in April, a pact on trade facilitation is expected to help developed countries gain greater market access in developing nations. Priyanka Parashar/ Mint
While an agreement for a temporary solution on food subsidy at Bali paved the way for the introduction of the food security Act in India, ensuring distribution of cheaper foodgrain to two-third of its population ahead of the general election due in April, a pact on trade facilitation is expected to help developed countries gain greater market access in developing nations. Priyanka Parashar/ Mint

India may oppose issues outside Doha mandate

Developed nations may include services, climate, competition, investment in post-Bali work schedule

New Delhi: India is preparing to oppose any move by developed countries to include so-called “21st century issues" such as services, competition, investment and climate change in the post-Bali work programme of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

India sees a scheduled discussion on the topic at the World Economic Forum (EF) meeting in Davos later this month as an attempt in that direction, a commerce ministry official said speaking on condition of anonymity.

The WEF annual meeting is scheduled to run between 22 and 25 January. Finance minister P. Chidambaram and trade minister Anand Sharma are scheduled to participate in various debates at the meet.

According to the WEF programme, on 25 January, under the topic Beyond barriers and borders, the various dimensions to be addressed include “Facilitating cross-border trade flows, making trade work for developing countries, assessing mega-regional trade agreements and integrating 21st century business issues."

Delegates from 159 member-states of WTO achieved a historic deal last month, which often seemed like an impossible task, by sealing the organization’s first multilateral accord since it came into force in 1995, breathing new life into the 12-year-old Doha round of world trade talks.

While an agreement for a temporary solution on food subsidy at Bali paved the way for the introduction of the food security Act in India, ensuring distribution of cheaper foodgrain to two-third of its population ahead of the general election due in April, a pact on trade facilitation is expected to help developed countries gain greater market access in developing nations since it requires the latter to streamline their customs regulations and make investments in their trade infrastructure.

The Bali meeting also charted out the way forward by instructing the trade negotiations committee to prepare a “clearly defined" work programme within the next 12 months on the remaining Doha Development Agenda issues pending since 2001.

“We have to emphasize that this is the right time to conclude the Doha round since it is on track after a long time. Therefore, those issues need to be addressed first. Doha round should not be allowed to get derailed now," the commerce ministry official quoted earlier said, adding that India is in touch with other developing countries on the matter.

Abhijit Das, head and professor at the Centre for WTO Studies under the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, said it will not be possible at this stage to include any other issues in the WTO post-Bali agenda other than the remaining Doha issues. “The mandate is very clear. It has to be confined to the unfinished items of Doha round of trade talks."

But he cautioned India has to be prepared for all eventualities. “If issues raised by the developed countries are not in our national interest, we must oppose them," he said.

India and other developing countries have maintained that until the Doha round of development issues is concluded, WTO should not take up any other issue for negotiation.

Ranja Sengupta, senior researcher at the Third World Network, an independent non-profit international network of organizations, said India should stick to the stand of the developing countries.

“There is a danger that issues completely outside the current mandate under Doha round may be included under different guises. India may be asked for a trade-off on some of these issues in return of a permanent solution on its demand on food security," she said. However, Sengupta said the government should start consulting with various stakeholders on the 21st century trade issues. “We should finalize our industrial and economic goals and design our trade policy accordingly to serve those ends," she said.

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