New US and Indian trade negotiators met on Monday in a bid to breathe life back into stalled negotiations on a global free-trade pact.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk held talks with recently appointed Indian trade minister Anand Sharma and World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Pascal Lamy on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
The former Dallas mayor, who was appointed to the post by US President Barack Obama in March, also briefly met members of the Chinese delegation on the sidelines of a gathering of 19 major farm exporting countries.
Kirk made no comment but Sharma said the talks were “positive” and both sides had reiterated their commitment to completing the WTO’s moribund Doha Round of negotiations, which collapsed in July.
“There’s a shared and expressed commitment to take the negotiations forward and to work together for the resumption of the negotiations... to see the successful conclusion of the Doha Round,” Sharma told AFP.
Developing countries including China and India want the industrialised world to scrap agricultural export subsidies, while Western powers are seeking greater access for their products in emerging markets.
The last round of Doha Round negotiations in Geneva in July fell apart over Washington’s refusal to accept Indian demands for measures to protect vulnerable Indian industries from a flood of cheap imports.
Sharma said it was time to “pick up the pieces from where they are and move forward.”
“We are not looking at the difficulties, we are looking at the possibilities, to do our best and take this process to its culmination,” he said.
“There are no obstacles which are insurmountable.”
The Indian minister said he would go to Washington mid-June for follow-up talks with Kirk.
Brazil’s WTO ambassador, Roberto Azevedo, who sat in on the Kirk-Sharma meeting, said it was important for Washington and New Delhi to send a clear “political signal” that they are ready to iron out their differences.
“We have two new players, Ron Kirk and Anand Sharma, so it’s good to have an opportunity to listen to them and what they bring to the table,” Azevedo said.
The talks were taking place alongside a ministerial meeting of the Cairns Group of farm exporters, including Australia, Brazil and Canada.
The group has called for a fresh start to the Doha Round and condemned rising signs of protectionism, including a new trade war between the United States and the European Union over dairy export subsidies.
Washington’s trading partners are also baulking at the “Buy American” plan included in US economic stimulus legislation which requires projects funded with stimulus money to use only US-made steel, iron and manufactured goods.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean, who is chairing the Cairns Group meeting, said the US and Indian sides had shown a genuine commitment to re-engage over the coming months.
Further negotiations could be expected on the sidelines of upcoming meetings of the G8, the OECD and APEC, he said.
“We have to use today’s meeting, if you like, as a starting point for what is going to be a period of intense negotiations at the technical level and the political level,” he told reporters.
Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said it was time for the leaders of world trade to “show their commitment” as the global financial crisis ravaged export industries.
“Everybody knows the United States and India are the most important players in terms of setting the tone and providing how far the (Doha) agreement can go,” she said.
The WTO talks, which started at the end of 2001 in the Qatari capital, aim to boost international commerce by removing trade barriers and subsidies.