India remains committed to the long-delayed Doha round of global trade talks and does not believe that bilateral and regional trade deals will affect the multilateral process, its trade minister said.
Anand Sharma told Reuters in an interview in Singapore on Thursday that an acceptable global trade regime was necessary for economic recovery, notwithstanding the decision by world leaders to drop a commitment to complete the Doha round by year-end.
"As long as the negotiators are engaged, it is still a positive sign," Sharma said. "You can see some light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is a long one."
"A multilateral trade regime which is acceptable to all countries has to be put in place. It will speed up the global recovery; not doing that will slow it down."
South African Trade Minister Pravin Gordhan told Reuters in an interview last month that Doha was "close to dead". He said also that bilateral and regional trade deals were complicating the issue.
Sharma, however, said the bilateral and regional deals were good for multilateral negotiations. "That eventually will feed into the multilateral process," he said. "Doing this is not in conflict with the WTO (World Trade Organisation) negotiations.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said last month he was monitoring the progress of regional deals to make sure there was political momentum left for Doha.
The WTO launched the Doha round in 2001 and it has been dogged ever since by differences among member countries. They have accused one another of not putting enough on the table, and of seeking too much in return for their own offers.
US President Barack Obama told Group of 20 leaders last month that he remained committed to the Doha round, but called for significant changes in the offers put forward.
Sources said he told a private leaders' lunch the big winners currently were emerging economic powers, apparently a reference to India and China.
Sharma did not directly react to the comments but said: "There is a broad understanding on a large number of issues, maybe 80 percent of issues. The remainder gaps have to be closed and it has to be an ambitious and balanced closing."
He has previously ruled out re-negotiating portions of the talks that have already been decided.