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India scores a point at WTO

India scored a major point when the Ministerial chairman agreed to look into draft proposals on agriculture including those from G-21.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2003 12:36 IST

Indian negotiators led by Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley were buoyed by the support they got in their campaign at the World Trade Organisation ministerial summit against trade distorting subsidies worth US $311 billion doled out by the United States and European Union.

The mood in the Indian camp was upbeat following a ruling by the chairman of the WTO fifth ministerial conference and Mexican Foreign Minister Dr Luis Ernesto Derbez Bautista on Thursday that an independent proposal on agriculture would be put up afresh accommodating concerns of all 146-member countries.

This ruling of the WTO ministerial chair was delivered after the G-21 delegation led by the Indian, Chinese and Brazilian commerce ministers raised serious objections on the previous offer circulated by the chairman of the general council Carlos Castillo. The alliance charged that the document reflected the US-EU position on agriculture and the proceedings on agriculture negotiations lacked transparency.

This prompted the ministerial conference chairman to appoint Singapore trade minister George Yeo Yong-Bon as facilitator for agriculture negotiations. He also ruled that the facilitator would prepare the offer document accommodating all viewpoints.

The direction came as a bolt from the blue for the EU-US trade negotiators who banked on the support of the WTO general council chairman.

Apart from this favourable ruling, day one of the ministerial conclave turned the tables in favour of India and its friends as not only did Egypt join the group on agriculture but the Cairns group led by Australia and New Zealand lambasted the US-EU for distorting farm trade.

More support came in for India as a group of another 22 developing countries led by Indonesia supported the G-21 cause for elimination of trade distorting subsidies. This new group is known as the Strategic Products and Special Safeguard Mechanism alliance.

Jaitley said there was commonality of approach towards market access on agriculture between the two groups.

Further, the mood for trade negotiations was set with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan making a passionate plea to the rich countries to eliminate subsidies that played the field against the poor nations and denied fair competition in agricultural trade. In absentia, his speech was delivered by Unctad secretary general Rubens Ricupero.

Enthused by the swelling ranks by the day on agricultural issues, India and China opened another common front against the rich countries on the so-called Singapore issues — competition, transparency in government procurement, investment and trade facilitation. The two Asian giants announced an alliance of 15 developing countries on the Singapore issues.

Jaitley said a common approach paper will be forwarded to WTO on Friday seeking continuation of clarification process on these issues.

Others who have signed on include Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Philippines, Cuba, Venezuela, Tanzania, Egypt and Jamaica. Chinese Commerce Minister Lu Fuyuan has apparently got a green signal from the communist leadership back home to go the whole hog on agricultural and Singapore issues as the country has already taken several commitments to enter the WTO.

Indian agenda

WTO trade negotiations lacked transparency, were discriminatory, opaque and unresponsive

Expanded tariff quotas, tariff quotas in agriculture not acceptable. Indian team will have fall back options to escape isolation

Explanation sought on scope, definition, transparency, dispute settlement, performance requirement sought on Singapore issues

Common framework does not suite WTO member-countries

Multilateral rules on trade facilitation, transparency in procurement to entail high costs

In services, unhindered facilitation of natural movement of persons and outsourcing sought

Prioritise transfer of technology, trade debt and finance

First Published: Sep 12, 2003 00:00 IST