US, India work overtime to keep Bali deal on track

Aug 01 2014, 08:19 IST
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US secretary of state John Kerry greets Ratan Tata with US secretary of commerce Penny Pritzker before a dinner at the US ambassador’s residence in New Delhi on Thursday. US secretary of state John Kerry greets Ratan Tata with US secretary of commerce Penny Pritzker before a dinner at the US ambassador’s residence in New Delhi on Thursday.
SummaryIndia stresses the need for ‘substance’

The July 31 deadline for the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) at the World Trade Organisation is not inviolable, India said in an amended statement for the world body’s general council late on Thursday, despite tenuous support for its case for bundling the TFA with the food security issue.

While visiting US leaders — secretary of state John Kerry and commerce secretary Penny Pritzker — who had meetings with senior Indian ministers during the day hoped for a last-minute breakthrough, official sources said New Delhi’s stance is unchanged but added that the country’s latest statement to the council suggested a way to end the deadlock.

Stressing that “substance” rather than “process” was paramount, New Delhi said a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security was integral to the Bali ministerial deal, sources said, quoting the country’s revised statement.

“Our new proposal is like a solution to the stalemate. If they accept it, the deal can be signed even today. But if they (developed countries) believe the deadline is more important, they should agree now to what we are saying or move to a new deadline and then accept our proposal,” a senior government official said.

Kerry said after a meeting with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj: “There is a meeting going on in Geneva. Our feeling is that the agreement in Bali was important for India. We do not dismiss India’s concerns on food subsidy. We are trying to encourage India to reach a compromise.”

Swaraj, however, maintained: “Let us wait for the final outcome of the (Geneva) meeting.”

Separately, commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman said India’s stand was the “same” (as earlier) and New Delhi remained firm. Commerce secretary Rajeev Kher, who was present at Sitharaman’s meeting with Pritzker, said India has suggested a way to break the deadlock.

The permanent solution, as India envisages, would give developing countries more liberty to subsidise its farmers including by giving them a minimum support price for their produce. As for India, relaxation of the cap for stockholding of foodgrains would help it implement the National Food Security Act, which envisages providing highly subsidised food to two-thirds of its people.

As per the December 2013 Bali Ministerial declaration, the deadline for member countries to sign a TF protocol would end on Thursday. Hectic parleys are on at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters to arrive at a deal. The TFA, however, will take

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