Bali deal hinges on who blinks first, India or the US

Surabhi Posted online: Friday, Dec 06, 2013 at 0000 hrs
With less than 24 hours to go before a formal announcement on Friday, it became a competition of sorts between India and the United States on who would blink first and it was left to WTO director general Roberto Azevedo to thrash out a compromise. Reaching a consensus at Bali is crucial to take forward the long-pending agenda of the Doha Round of global trade talks as the 9th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is set to conclude on Friday.

Late Thursday night, Azevedo along with Indonesian trade minister Gita Wirjawan held an hour long meeting with India’s commerce minister Anand Sharma and US Trade Representative Michael Froman to make the two sides reach an accord.

“These are interesting times but I stand by what I said,” Sharma said. The minister is likely to have discussed India’s stance with New Delhi.

At about 12:00 am (IST), India’s ambassador and permanent representative to the WTO, Jayant Dasgupta met the WTO DG alone. At present, there is no clarity on further negotiations.

Before that Sharma met the WTO DG for one and a half

ours in the evening but stuck to his position that India would first discuss food security before finalising the Bali package. The WTO chief was keen to reach an early harvest.

Highly placed sources said that possible options to accommodate India’s demands would be to either revise the date at which food prices are calculated or to include a commitment for a permanent solution.

Earlier in the day, India had shown willingness to agree on eight of the 10 draft texts but may want them back at the drafting table in Geneva on the contentious issues of trade facilitation and food subsidy.

“India has endorsed eight of the 10 draft texts. This is just to underscore that India is as much committed as any other nation to have a successful outcome in Bali. But at the same time there are issues on trade facilitation,” commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma told a specially convened press conference to clarify India’s stand. But sources indicated the United States is unwilling to postpone signing of the trade facilitation (TF) pact. The European Union too is keen to sign the TF pact and has indicated it is willing to concede on food security.

A senior Indian official explained that eight of the draft WTO texts are fully acceptable, the first section of the trade facilitation section has three clauses that India does not find suitable and would like to take up for re-negotiation.

Also, apart from food subsidy, other farm proposals on export subsidies and export of certain farm goods at lower rates by developing countries can also be taken back to Geneva. “There can still be a Bali package but it would not consist of trade facilitation or food subsidy,” said a source.

Meanwhile, addressing a packed press conference of over 600 people that included journalists and officials from across the world, Sharma remained hopeful for a consensus but said, “Those who are speaking up for the poor and the hungry people cannot be blamed (if the conference collapses). But it is better to have no outcome than a bad outcome.”

“An overwhelming majority of countries” who spoke on Wednesday representing two-thirds of the world’s poor population and share India’s concerns on food subsidy and stock piling of food grains, Sharma said.

DEADLOCK

Reaching a consensus at Bali is crucial to take forward the long-pending Doha agenda.

Earlier, India had shown willingness to agree on eight of the 10 draft texts but may want them reworked on issues of food subsidy and trade facilitation.

The US and EU are unwilling to defer the trade facilitation pact.