India invites US, EU, Japan to make WTO ministerial meaningful


The Financial Express (India)
By Rituparna Bhuyan
July 27, 2009

New Delhi: In a bid to ensure that the “informal ministerial” on the Doha Round of trade talks- in first week of September at Delhi- does not end up reiterating the defensive interest of developing nations, India has also invited United States, European Union, Japan and other developed nations with significant interest in market access on trade of merchandise goods.

This has been done to ensure that the Delhi summit has a more meaningful outcome just before the main ministerial level meeting of trade ministers scheduled at the Geneva based head quarters of WTO in November. However, participants from about 35 countries at the Delhi summit are likely to steer clear of controversial topics to minimise any risk of failure of the event.

The three day summit—which was originally planned as a G 20 meeting—is a WTO lobby group on countries having defensive interests in agriculture . Subsequently, invitations have also been sent to the United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk and European Union Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton as well as WTO director general Pascal Lamy.

Happy with commerce minister Anand Sharma’s efforts to revive the stalled

Doha multilateral trade talks, WTO director-general Pascal Lamy has confirmed his participation at the trade ministers’ meeting being in September.

“Yes, Lamy has confirmed his participation at the-ministerial meeting in the first week of September,” a ministry official said

The Delhi summit, therefore, is being termed as an “informal ministerial” where key stake holders on the Doha Round will take a stock of the progress on the Round. Significantly, this summit is taking place after a meeting of trade ministers in Bali in June.

The Doha Round of trade talks seeks to cut down tariffs as well as unfair subsidies and rules. However, it has been log jammed since July, 2008 over cutting down subsidies enjoyed by cotton farmers in developed countries as well as a trigger mechanism to protect surge in farm imports in developing countries like India.

“There should not be any friction over controversial issues in the summit. Hence, these will be avoided in the agenda. Instead, there would be a stock taking on whatever has been achieved,” said a government official in the know of the preparations for the talks

It remains to be seen if there would be any talks on how to take forward services trade. Till now, talks on the services trade has mostly remained in the background, compared to the negotiations on agriculture and industrial goods trade on which most developed countries have offensive interests.

Observers will also be keenly following India’s position on the talks, which was seen to be softening after the new UPA took over in May, 2009. Commerce minister Anand Sharma in an interview to Reuters in June had said that the Doha Round impasse was broken. Most developing and third world countries have been looking up to India, which has a strong presence in the negotiating rooms of WTO headquarters at Geneva.

Experts say that the Delhi summit is a good time to take stock of the slew of protectionist measures that the countries are employing in the wake of the global financial crisis. “Apart from discussing the Doha Round, trade ministers could take this opportunity to discuss measures employed by countries like stricter visa norms and domestic sourcing promotional measures,” said Biswajit Dhar, director general of Research and Information system on Developing Countries.

A key feature of the summit will be the bilateral talks that the participating members will be engaging in. Ministry of commerce and industry has made special arrangements for venues on bilateral talks-where one could expect many back-channel negotiations on the Doha Round as well as other allied topics.

For example, a meeting between Sharma and European Trade Commissioner Ashton is expected where the ongoing trade dispute on high incidence of duties on imported liquor imposed by India.

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