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India set to become developing world's voice at Cancun meet

India is being looked upon to emerge as a strong voice of developing nations at Cancun meet.

business Updated: Sep 09, 2003 12:07 IST

India is again being looked upon to emerge as a strong voice of developing countries at the WTO Ministerial Meet starting Wednesday at the Mexican resort of Cancun.

At the Doha Ministerial in November 2001, India successfully withstood pressure and managed to secure vital concessions for the developing countries as in the matter of access to affordable medicines in the final Doha Development Agenda.

"India is on a stronger footing this time with China and Brazil having decided to support it in getting concessions on agriculture subsidies and better market access," director of the Institute of Economic Growth BB Bhattacharya told IANS.

"The outcome will hopefully be better than at Doha ministerial with developed nations keen to avoid a repeat of the near collapse of negotiations," said the head of the leading think tank.

The spirit of give and take may well prevent the developing and developed nations to avoid a confrontationist stand at the five-day Cancun meet in which representatives of 146 member countries would take part.

"Keen to get some concession in terms of market access, the developed countries must show some spirit of give and take," said Bhattacharya.

Global experts from the World Bank and UNCTAD in their annual reports released this month have stressed that just by reducing the subsidies in their own countries, the rich countries could help improve market access for developing nations.

Addressing the India-ASEAN Business Summit here last week, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had voiced concern that developing countries were being sidetracked at WTO.

"We try to highlight the asymmetries and imbalances in the multilateral trade agreements but keep getting sidetracked into non-trade related issues. We are finding that the Doha agenda negotiations are a two-track process, with our concerns on the slower track," Vajpayee had said.

Besides political leaders, NGO and civil society activists have gathered at Cancun to lend their voice to concerns of the poor and developing countries on issues closer to human development and health.

Along with like-minded nations, India is expected to take on the might of the US and European Union on farm issues under the leadership of Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley, who is leading a strong official Indian delegation.

Emerging as a major agriculture exporting country, India has a strong stake in ensuring that developing countries get better market access.

With 70 per cent of the country dependent on agriculture, it will be an area of major concern for India, which is also striving to become a leading player in export of agriculture goods. The non-tariff barriers being raised by developed nations are a major stumbling block in India's efforts.

Already 20 developing countries have come together ahead of Cancun to force the rich nations to reduce agriculture and export subsidies, which is well over $300 billion.

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

He did not foresee a confrontationist role being played by India, provided "there is some spirit of give and take".

With a string of missed deadlines in the negotiations on Doha Development Agenda, failure in Cancun could seriously affect the changes of reaching a comprehensive trade pact before 2005.

But several experts feel that this is not really a make or break situation.

"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," saidformer director general of WTO and adviser at the Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations (ICRIER), Anwar ul Hoda.

While developing countries are seeking elimination or reduction in agriculture and export subsidies, and market access, developed nations are for reduction of trade tariffs and bringing on board competition and investment policies and trade facilitation issues known as Singapore Issues.

As the US has been keen to stress, it is not a clear divide between the rich and developing countries as there are several matters including the investment and competition issues on which the developed nations are not in tune.

India too is not keen to take any step in this direction in the absence of any clear-cut policies on what it would entail.

"We hope to see India play a substantive role for developing nations in resolution of contentious issues on public health, market access, and agriculture and export subsidies," saidsecretary general of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), Jayant Bhuyan.

"We are looking forward to a successful conclusion of the Cancun ministerial with the concerns of the developing countries being addressed and the objectives of multilateralism endorsed," Bhuyan added.

First Published: Sep 09, 2003 12:05 IST