All eyes on Sep 3 summit as WTO members meet to push Doha talks

Written by Rituparna Bhuyan | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 2 2009, 05:37am hrs
When commerce secretary Rahul Khullar orders the doors to be shut at the Shah Jahan hall of Taj Palace Hotel on Wednesday morning, it could well be the beginning of that last elusive push that has been evading the Doha Round of world trade talks after it got stuck nearly a year ago.

The meeting of senior officials will be the precursor to the two-day mini-ministerial summitRe-energising Doha: A Commitment to Development. The event is being chaired and hosted by India, where trade ministers from 35 countries, representing the interests of over 100 nations, will try to bridge their differences and hopefully draw out an action plan to take the Doha talks towards a successful conclusion.

Official level talks on the Doha Development Round were last held on July, 2009, where member countries of the World Trade Organisation reiterated the commitment towards concluding the Doha Round, but no substantive measures on a possible road map was deliberated on. It is now time to draw these separate threads together, weaving them into a response of solidarity to move the multilateral process forward. This is what the Delhi meeting attempts to achieve, stresses a discussion paper circulated by India on the summit.

No specific issues will be discussed at the Delhi summit, but the focus will be on taking the process forward. Key questions that will be deliberated in the summit areshould the chairmen of other negotiating groups like services and rules prepare their roadmaps for further negotiations How can the work in negotiating groups be intensified to meet the 2010 timeline How can senior officials involved in identifying the priority issues for attention Should senior officials meet in early October again

This is a critical crossroad at the WTO. This meeting may not discuss the fine details on how we move forward but certainly it captures the willingness on behalf of all the nations, particularly the G-20, said Gerlad Keddy, parliamentary secretary to the minister of international trade, Canada. Even though the number of invited dignitaries in the summit is small, the summit will be watched closely by almost all WTO members. The list of invited countries is such that they represent key voices in the various lobby groups inside the WTO set up like the G-33, Cairns Group or Nama 11, which are blocs having similar interests on the Doha Round.

The ministerial meeting is scheduled to begin on September 3 with a lunch session. The trade minister of each invited country will be allowed to take in two senior officials to the ministerial level meeting, which will be followed by the inaugural session, chaired by commerce minister Anand Sharma. After this, WTO director-general Pascal Lamy and chairman of agriculture, industrial goods and services negotiations will make their statements. Coordinators of respective WTO lobby groups will then put forth their statements.

The second day of the summit will mostly be devoted to discussions. After the summit concludes, the dignitaries are scheduled to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday evening. As the chair of the summit, India will release a statement, capturing the progress in the talks.

All eyes will be then on the G-20 meet about two weeks later in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Moreover, the formal mini-ministerial meeting on the Doha Round is scheduled at Geneva in November, where detailed stock talking on the progress of the talks will be undertaken.