Home > news > world > India, others reject recalibration approach

Paris: An informal meeting of trade officials in Paris on Thursday failed to agree on the broad contours of the post-Bali work programme to conclude the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations by the end of the year.

India, along with China, Brazil, and South Africa, rejected calls from developed nations to adopt a so-called “recalibration approach" to conclude the Doha Round, said an official who took part in the meeting but did not want to be identified. Such an approach will help the US, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Norway and Switzerland, among others, to discuss only those issues with which they are comfortable in the Doha agenda and bury all difficult issues.

Australia, which hosted the meeting, asked the participants what outcomes ought to be included in the post-Bali work programme; what outcomes must be achieved by the 10th ministerial conference later this year; and what needs to be done between now and the Nairobi ministerial meeting in December.

Trade ministers and officials from 29 countries took part in the meeting held on the margins of the annual Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) meeting.

India’s commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman set the tone for the meeting, delivering the country’s strongest statement yet on what needs to be done to conclude the Doha negotiations.

Sitharaman said India will not allow attempts to divert attention from the development dimension of the Doha Round. She emphasized that special and differential flexibilities must guide the post-Bali work programme. “To conclude the Doha Round on the basis of market access is unacceptable (to India)," the minister told her counterparts, according to an official aware of the meeting’s proceedings.

Ambition in agriculture, she said, hinges on the reform of the trade-distorting domestic subsidies for which the so-called landing zones are spelt out in the 2008 revised draft modalities. Without taking names, she criticized major industrialized countries for diverting attention from their trade-distorting domestic subsidy reduction commitments by pointing a finger at farm subsidies provided by developing countries for their resource-poor farmers.

The Doha Development Agenda negotiations were launched in 2001 to address global inequities in the international trading system and enable the poorest and developing countries to integrate into the global trading system.

But the negotiations remained paralysed because of intransigent positions adopted by some major industrialized countries to reduce their trade-distorting domestic farm subsidies running into billions of dollars in the last several decades.

The US has repeatedly maintained that it will undertake commitments to reduce its most trade-distorting domestic subsidies only when the emerging countries such as China and India accept commensurate obligations to reduce their subsidies.

For India, issues such as the special safeguard mechanism for curbing unforeseen surges in imports of agricultural products, the special products with zero tariff, the permanent solution for public stockholding programmes for food security, and a special package of concessions for the poorest countries are must-haves in the post-Bali work programme, the commerce minister said.

India wants a comprehensive post-Bali work programme that would address all the outstanding issues in all areas of the Doha package without fail, Sitharaman emphasized.

China, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa and Argentina, among others, have joined India by demanding a comprehensive post-Bali work programme that would deliver the results promised in all the existing Doha mandates.

The mandates include the Doha Ministerial Declaration of 2001, the 2004 July Framework Agreement, the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration, and the unsettled 2008 revised draft modalities that suggested the landing zones for reducing trade-distorting subsidies and tariff cuts for agriculture and industrial products.

South Africa’s trade minister Rob Davies said efforts to bring about a recalibration have led to uneven outcomes in which the level of ambition in agriculture is drastically reduced while it is increased in the market access for industrial goods. Davies argued that African countries need policy space for carrying out their industrial policies.

Brazil criticized the slow progress made in agriculture. While work in the industrial goods and services are proceeding at a brisk pace, laggards such as agriculture are further left behind, Brazil charged.

According to a trade minister present at the meeting, the US, however, issued an inflexible message saying there are only two options: Either pursue a recalibration approach for lowering the overall level of ambition in the Doha negotiations or face a failure of the Doha Development Agenda negotiations at the 10th ministerial meeting in Nairobi in Kenya beginning on 12 December.

The US deputy trade representative Ambassador Michael Punke who took part in the meeting suggested that “red lines" of India, China, and the US don’t overlap, meaning the three countries will find it difficult to reduce their farm subsidies, said a participant who asked not to be quoted.

The US official also admitted that there is little evidence of convergence on any issue at this juncture, the participant argued.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom defended the US stance to lower the level of ambition based on the recalibration approach.

“There is no realistic assessment on issues among ministers at this juncture," an EU official told Mint.

In his concluding remarks at the end of the meeting, World Trade Organization director general Roberto Azevedo expressed concern about countries sticking to their old positions. Azevedo said he has not heard anything new from the participants.

As of today, there is no deal, the WTO chief told the participants.

Kenya’s foreign minister Amina Mohammed agreed with the director general that there is no common ground among participants at this juncture.

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