The talks were destined to doom

Updated: Jul 26 2006, 05:30am hrs
Failure of the WTO talks in Geneva was neither a surprise nor a shock. Looking at the draft modalities on agriculture and NAMA of 22 June06, I had the premonition that the drafts would not work. As the Chairpersons of the negotiating Committees themselves had mentioned, the modalities presented by them were menu fixe for decisions and no smorgasbord. The draft modalities on agriculture reminded me of draft declaration of the Seattle Ministerial, in view of over 750 square brackets in 72 pages.

It spoke of the confusions that prevailed over agriculture negotiations. Similarly, the draft modalities on NAMA also indicated that consensus was eluding practically the entire range of issues, including the structure of the formula and the coefficients to be chosen, product coverage for tariff reduction, treatment of unbound tariffs etc, and even on such minor issues as reference period for import data. It was eminently clear that since the Hong Kong days, the negotiations did not make any headway.

On the contrary, the issues, especially those in agriculture, in their fully laid out display, had opened up many cans of worms. The views are personal. The divergences were wide and serious. The crux of the negotiation this time was reduced only to Agriculture and NAMA. What was apparent was that the members, particularly the developed countries, were seemingly unwilling to strike a balance of objectives between Market Access and development needs.

The draft modalities on Agriculture and NAMA clearly pointed out that there was no meeting ground between the US-EU (aiming for ambitious liberalisation goal of developing country markets, and the G-20 (struggling for development through wider market access in the developed country markets). The US-EU were determined to pursue their protectionist stands on agriculture but wanted the larger developing countries to pave the way for greater access for industrial goods into their markets. This certainly was not acceptable. I will, however, not single out the USA alone for failure of the talk. It was the belligerant moods of all concerned the US, the EU and the G-20.

Given this, we did not expect any consensus. Nor do we expect any breakthrough in the near future. What then is the prospect for Doha negotiations There are forthcoming Congressional election in the US and French Election end of this year. Then there is the curtain of uncertainty over expiry of Fast Track Authority in the US in May 2007, after which the US goes into preparation for the Presidential election in 2008.

With this scenario, chances are that Doha negotiations may continue through 2009 and perhaps beyond. What is the road ahead now First things first, I always felt that some kind of an outcome, irrespective of its quality, was being pushed down our throats. Had there been an outcome, it would not have been in our interest. So, let us welcome and not bemoan the failure of the talk. The monotonous negotiations needed a break, and now we have the desired break. Having said this, I think it is desirable that the members engage themselves in reflections and try to find out where things went wrong. The dialogue should not be allowed to die down completely, but let the members carry on with informal dialogue over what is achievable.

Ambition should be kept aside, and a berth be provided for a more pragmatic and doable outcome. Director General, Pascal may should be allowed to continue with his convergence seeking initiatives and build a common ground for all parties to meet. At the end of the Doha round, we should not end up having another Uruguay Round kind of outcome.

The author is with Reliance Industries