“Differentiations among developing countries in this manner is unacceptable to India," New Delhi’s trade envoy Anjali Prasad told a meeting of the trade negotiations committee.
Over the last 10 days, the US has repeatedly insisted that major developing countries undertake commitments to reduce the support they currently provide to their farmers.
The US, for example, is targeting the input subsidies provided to low and resource-poor farmers as well as market price support to procure produce from farmers for public stockholding programmes.
US trade envoy Michael Punke said large emerging economies have to undertake commitments because of changed realities.
Without mentioning the US by name, India said “such arguments and conditionalities undermine the very basis of the negotiating function of the WTO which is based on certain accepted principles, which do not allow for such differentiation".
Contributions, said Prasad, “have to be benchmarked to levels of development rather than some vague sense of the world having changed".
She said any discussion on “doability", “recalibration" or “simplification" should not result in the dilution of “development quotient" of the Doha Round of trade negotiations.
China also denounced attempts to change goalposts in the negotiations on the pretext of “recalibration". China’s trade envoy Yu Jianhua said his country will not accept attempts to undermine the previous mandates such as the Doha declaration of 2001, the 2004 July work programme, the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial declaration, and the 2008 revised draft modalities.
WTO chief Roberto Azevedo, however, presented an upbeat assessment claiming all is well with the ongoing negotiations for drawing-up the post-Bali work programme on how to conclude the Doha trade talks.
But China and India along with several other countries remain concerned at attempts to impose new commitments on developing countries, including moves to undermine what are called the special and differential flexibilities in agriculture.
During a closed-door meeting of trade envoys of six major countries—the US, the European Union (EU), China, India, Brazil and Australia—last Wednesday, there were sharp differences over issues concerning the flexibilities accorded to developing countries under the WTO rules.
China and India insisted that Azevedo must state unambiguously whether there is an attempt to dilute Article 6.2 of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) to deny the special and differential flexibilities that are crucial for poor farmers to continue farming, according to people familiar with the meeting.
Developing countries are currently exempted from reduction commitments from agricultural input subsidies under Article 6.2 of the AoA.
Therefore, when the US says input subsidies and MPS (market price support) are more trade-distorting than area payments and partially decoupled support, clearly it is aimed at undermining Article 6.2.
Despite these halting developments in the negotiations, Azevedo claimed that “we (members) are getting close to July now", implying that there is forward movement in cobbling together a work programme that stipulates specific and modalities-like benchmarks to finalize negotiations.
He said: “Whatever the nature of work programme we get by July, clearly I will have to fulfil certain criteria"—that the work programme must be substantive and meaningful; that it would provide guidance to conclude the negotiations; and that it must be a springboard for a successful 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in December.
But a large majority of developing countries, including China and India, have sharply differed with Azevedo’s assessment. The countries expressed grave concern over what they see as sustained attempts to undermine the previous mandates of the Doha trade negotiations under the pretext of “recalibration".
However, the industrialized countries, particularly the US and the EU, are comfortable with “recalibration" as a strategy towards realistic progress by the end of this year.