FE Editorial : Mini ministerial, big ambition

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Aug 28 2009, 02:53am hrs
India will host a WTO mini-ministerial from September 2, preceded by an official-level meeting. This is expected to be attended by chairs of agriculture, Nama and services, G-20, Cairns Group, Nama-11, Cotton-4, EU, Africa Group and ACP countries. Legally, the mini-ministerial has no negotiating mandate. That will have to wait for the Geneva ministerial in end-September, ministerial meetings having been postponed because of the Doha impasse. However, rustling up 100-plus WTO members for the Delhi meeting is nothing short of ambitious, and legality apart, it is unrealistic to expect there wont be negotiations. There will be, but probably after the formalities are over. The commerce secretary has said India wants to project that it is interested in successful completion of the Doha work programme (DWP) and wishes to counter the impression, bolstered by developed countries, that it was responsible for the impasse. That apportioning of blame is certainly half accurate, since disagreement between India and the US over the special safeguard agreement (SSA) in July 2008 led to the deadlock. The big question to ask is, what price is India prepared to pay for consensus

The commerce secretary has also mentioned increasing protectionism, following (and for food, preceding) the financial crisis. While this is true, most of this is WTO-compatible and a successful DWP isnt likely to eliminate it. The London G-20 communique recognises it as fait accompli. It cannot be denied that India has been under pressure from developed countries like the US and from the WTO to become more flexible. This means the nitty-gritties, including SSAsomething the mini-ministerial cannot avoid. Or else, the mini-ministerial serves no purpose, even though it was promised by Anand Sharma at the Bali Cairns Group meeting in June. With agriculture liberalisation ambitions having been lowered, the so-called rainbow coalition India is trying to push also has limited relevance. Nama, services, domestic agricultural support and agro export subsidies arent the stumbling blocks, since differing positions can be adjusted by lowering ambitions. While India, China, Brazil (to a lesser extent, South Africa and Argentina) hold together, in SSA, it is India and China versus the rest. Of the two, China doesnt have a hard position. Therefore, reading between the lines, has India, in an attempt to be more flexible, yielded ground on SSA Why else has this meeting changed from the proposed G-20 conclave to a mini-ministerial A little more transparency and public debate on Indias negotiating position would be welcome.