Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

India has said it will neither agree to ‘artificial deadlines’ to conclude the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Doha Round negotiations aimed at liberalising global trade, nor concur with rich nations’ attempts to expand the ambit of the talks by introducing “new” issues without completely fulfilling the Round’s ‘development’ dimension.

Briefing the media, ahead of the December 15-18 Nairobi ministerial meeting of the WTO on the Doha Round talks, Commerce Secretary, Rita Teaotia, dismissed the WTO Director General, Roberto Azevêdo’s recent suggestion to WTO member countries treat the time available till the Nairobi meet as the “the last opportunity” to show the flexibility and political will to make the Ministerial Conference a success.

Firmly rejecting such ‘artificial deadlines’, Teaotia said: “Why should this be the last opportunity? We have been negotiating for a long time. All the countries have invested a lot in this Round and you cannot put that away.”

The Doha Round talks had begun in 2001 and has since missed several deadlines for concluding it, due to persisting differences between the developed and developing world on a host of issues related to trade liberalisation and granting market opening commitments.

The commerce secretary said, “India’s intention is not to delay the talks, but to ensure that the talks come to a successful, logical and balanced conclusion, and fulfilment of the development dimension in every aspect. At the end of the Nairobi meet, we should have a work programme to implement the development agenda as well as to meet and continue the talks till it is concluded successfully.”

Teaotia, however, said the WTO DG has a “very difficult job of striking a balance” given the different views and interests of member countries.

In his report to the WTO’s General Council (the WTO’s highest-level decision-making body in Geneva) on December 7 about the potential outcomes of the Nairobi Ministerial Conference, Azevêdo had said, “We currently… have no deliverables for Nairobi — either on the potential outcomes that we identified, or on the Ministerial Declaration…. Nevertheless, we do still have the chance of delivering some significant elements in the extremely limited time available.”

“So I would urge you (WTO members) to seize this last opportunity to show the flexibility and political will that we need,” for a successful Ministerial Conference that is “essential to support growth and development for all members,” he had said.

Significantly, on the attempts of the developed countries to introduce ‘new’ issues citing the sluggish progress of the negotiations on the one hand and the increasing relevance of these so-called 21st Century issues, Teaotia said it was important to first agree on issues of importance to the developing and the poor world.

These include the reduction of ‘huge and trade distorting’ agribusiness subsidies in developed countries, an effective Special Safeguard Mechanism (a trade remedy allowing developing countries to temporarily hike duties on farm products to counter sudden import surges and price falls, thereby protecting the interests of poor farmers), and a permanent solution to the issue of public food stockholding in developing countries for the purpose of food security.

The ‘new’ issues pertain to labour practices, environmental standards, global value chains and promotion of supply chains, e-commerce, competition and investment provisions, environmental and sustainable goods produced using clean and green energy, transparency in government procurement as well as on state-owned enterprises and designated monopolies.