US may again play a spoiler

Written by Rituparna Bhuyan | Sunny Verma | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 5 2009, 06:10am hrs
When trade negotiators meet in the Geneva-based headquarters of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) September 14 for the first time after the economic crisis started, the going will be tough because of old contentious issues and new proposals by United States that seek bilateral engagements with other countries aimed at knowing how developing nations will use their special exceptions that protect sensitive sectors from trade liberalisation .

Interacting with the media on Friday, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk said bilateral engagements will determine concessions to be given by the US in the Doha Round.

Whatever concession we make we will make in those sustained bilaterals. We believe that is the best forum for nations to move beyond public posturing and in to the real hard-line negotiations necessary to being Doha to a successful conclusion. If we maintain the same posture that we have right now that every nation says we are not willing to move any further, then it will not be a successful conclusion of Doha Round, Kirk said.

The move by US is aimed at knowing the details of how advanced developing countries including the IBSA bloc (India, Brazil, China and South Africa) will use the exceptions that they will enjoy when the Doha Round deal gets implemented. US wants to bargain on these exceptions, so that it gets enhanced market access in these growing economies in return for decreasing trade distorting farm subsidies that it gives to its multinational farming corporations. Developing countries have been demanding that these subsidies be bought down to about $ 12 billion annually.

It is being believed that when a trade ministers meeting on the Doha Round gailed at Geneva in July 2008, 80% of the issues were solved. With new approached being proposed, the Doha deal talks could get further complicated. For example, issues that remain to be sorted out includes contours of the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM), an emergency measure that developing and poor countries can employ to protect themselves against import surges of farm goods.

SSM is clearly a point that is not quite settled. We cannot pretend that it is settled. We understand that there must be negotiations on that. That was an evolving process before December. It was going in the right direction before other things came in the way. New demands by rich countries or one rich country which made it innocuous to continue the discussions. I am not referring to SSM (it has is yet to be settled), said Celso Amorim, external Affairs minister of Brazil, who also heads the G-20 group in WTO, a lobbying bloc of developing counties.

Indian commerce minister Anand Sharma on Friday made it clear that one-to-one processes like bilateral approach to Doha Round will only feed in to the multilateral process of the trade talk. Various view point were expressed but there was complete unanimity that multilateral process will drive the negotiations and other processes which would include bilateral and plurilateral process, which will feed in to the ongoing multilateral process of the Doha Round, Sharma said.

Amorim maintained that the newly proposed bilateral process would be harmful for the developing countries. I have been very long in this end game. We have been doing bilaterals all the time. I understand that in this process now we need some extra bilaterals to explain to other people what our commitments mean and have an idea of how flexibilities will be used, he said.