Shourie Will Not Attend WTO London Meet; Jaitley May Go

New Delhi, April 27 | Updated: Apr 28 2004, 05:30am hrs
With disinvestment minister Arun Shourie expressing his inability to attend the mini-ministerial meeting of select World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministers, called by the US trade representative (USTR) Robert Zoellick in London this weekend, the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) will have to decide on another name for the meet. It might alternatively decide not to send anybody to the meeting

Speaking to FE, ministry sources said that the PMO might decide on sending commerce minister Arun Jaitley to London who had earlier suggested that Mr Shourie be sent in his place as he was busy with the on-going Lok Sabha elections. The decision on Indias participation will be taken on Wednesday as it is not possible to delay things further with the meeting scheduled on Friday.

Since Mr Shourie will be unable to attend the meeting, the only option is to see whether Mr Jaitley could be spared for it. There is a fifty-fifty chance of India attending the London meet, an official said.

The mini-ministerial called by the USTR is important as it would provide key members an opportunity to informally discuss ways to break the present deadlock in the on-going negotiations at the WTO. Apart from ministers from India and the US, others attending the meeting include EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy, Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim, South African trade minister Alec Erwin and Kenya Trade Minister Mukhisa Kituyi.

The US, which is eager to get things moving before it is distracted by the presidential elections in November this year, has planned several such meetings over the next few months to make progress in the stalled talks.

With the EU, the US and two key members of the G-20 alliance, Brazil and India, attending the meet, the focus of the mini-ministerial will be agriculture. It is widely believed that negotiations on other areas would not progress till the developed and developing countries agree to a compromise formula in the area of agriculture.

While the EU-US alliance is pushing for greater market access for their farm produce in the developing world with lowered tariffs, the G-20 alliance which comprises India, China, Brazil, South Africa, Argentina etc, want the developed countries to cut down and eliminate their farm subsidies which is as high as $360 billion annually.