Agriculture, investment issues could be roadblocks at Cancun

Updated on Sep 06, 2003 01:38 PM IST

With a fortnight to go for the 5th WTO Ministerial Conference, stage is set for a confrontation between developed and developing nations.

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PTI | ByLola Nayar (Indo-Asian News Service), New Delhi

With a fortnight to go for the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference, the stage is set for a confrontation between developed and developing nations on issues like agriculture subsidy and open market access.

The conference will be held at Cancun, Mexico, from September 10-14.

While the US and EU have come together to ask developing countries to reduce tariff and grant better market access, the developing countries in turn have sought that the mandate and spirit of the Doha Declaration be carried forward.

This includes reduction in agriculture subsidies and elimination of trade barriers by developed countries.

"Developing countries are on a stronger wicket when we look towards Cancun. They are asking for open market access and deeper cuts on subsidies, which cannot be openly challenged," TK Bhaumik, an international trade expert with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), told IANS.

"As of now nothing is going forward. We are behind schedule for negotiations. The entire negotiations should take into account the mandate and spirit of Doha Declaration," said Bhaumik, who will be part of the industry representative at Cancun.

Experts see Cancun basically as a halfway house to 2005 when the WTO negotiations are expected to conclude.

While the Cancun ministerial meet is not expected to break the negotiations, it is definitely expected to impact the progress on the Doha ministerial round, held in November 2001.

"Cancun is not the end of negotiations and may not result in major decisions. It could well be in the nature of a mid-term assessment. But people want to see progress in the resolution of differences," said Anwar ul Hoda, former director general of WTO and adviser at the Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations (ICRIER).

"At present the danger is that on major issues like health and TRIPS (trade related intellectual property rights) the views are deep seated on some important issues and that could stop short of resolving the differences. As for agriculture, there is a likelihood of stalemate. Progress will depend on how firm the agriculture exporting countries are," said Hoda told IANS.

He was, however, hopeful that the stalemate could be broken through procedural agreement on negotiations.

Following the U.S and the E.U. moves to come together to urge developing countries to reduce non-agriculture trade tariff, India has joined 17 WTO member countries, including China and Brazil, to call for sharp cuts in domestic subsidies and phased elimination of export subsidies.

At stake for agriculture product exporting countries like India is the unfair advantage farmers in developed nations have with their steep subsidies.

The grouping represents 60 percent of the world population that depends on agriculture, Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley told Parliament members attached to the consultative committee of his ministry.

"The main objective is to eliminate trade distorting subsidies and improve market access," said Jaitley, who has been striving to build a national consensus on various issues.

On the Singapore Issues related to competition and investment, Jaitley said, "India was one of the principal opponents of the proposal for bringing new issues especially investment in the multilateral framework as it could involve compromising on sovereign policy space and there was no clarity on the scope and content."

Given the views of developing countries, Hoda said, "Trade and investment issues could well result in a stalemate as could agriculture, with developed nations not looking like being very ambitious about reducing subsidy."

Around 20 representatives of different NGOs from India are expected to join civil society members who will be holding interactions with political leaders on the sidelines of the WTO ministerial meet.

"While we support that globalisation and WTO are here to stay and can be an important tool to helps millions rise above poverty if used properly, the developed nations are clearly showing double standards," said Madhushree Banerjee of Oxfam Trust.

The global NGO is trying to get the views of other similar organisations to understand the view of civil society on the challenges facing India.

While admitting to differences in views among NGOs, Oxfam Trust is keen to come up with "an alternative agenda for agriculture and trade from the grassroots".

Experts share the concern that real issues of developing countries are being overlooked.

"The developed nations have to address the development concerns of a country like ours on a priority basis. We are unhappy that negotiation deadlines on trade and development have not been met. If developed nations want more market access they have to address our development concerns and give more market access," said Bhaumik.

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