WTO dy chief urges for completion of trade talks

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 23 2009, 02:01am hrs
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Saturday hailed India's initiative to host the two-day Mini-Ministerial meeting in Delhi, which would be preceeded by a senior official level meeting on September 2. Apart from the chairs of agriculture, NAMA and services negotiating committees, the mini-ministerial is expected to be attended by the representatives from G-20, Cairns group, NAMA-11, Cotton-4 group of African countries, European Union Trade Commissioner, Africa group and the ACP countries. The meeting would also provides a window of opportunity for negotiating bilateral agreements.

The visiting Deputy Director-General of WTO, Harsh Vardhana Singh lauded India's effort in this direction as "an initiative to give impetus to the stalled Doha Round of negotiations" and said that as a nunber of countries would be participating it shows the willingness of the world leaders to arrive at a successful conclusion.

Singh informed that the WTO would convene a three-day Ministerial Meeting in Geneva beginning from November 30, this year. He, however, clarified that the Geneva Ministerial would be more of a "stock taking" nature and nothing much to be expected of its outcome. He said that a Ministerial meeting should be held in every two years as per norms and it was overdue and several member countries have asked for convening such a meeting.

Singh admitted : "after all, there is a lull in the negotiations: it is now almost eight years since they began; there is flurry of activities on concluding or negotiating FTAs." He said that successful completion of multi-lateral trade agreement was much better that than FTAs or RTAs or bilateral, which according to him do not address all concerns.

At an event organised by the apex industry body - FICCI - the WTO DDG tried to successfully market the concept of Doha Round before the Indian audience by his erudite presentation. He said that in a largely inter-linked system of today the world leaders were searching for improved systems of global governance to deal with hitherto unanticipated links amongst the performance of nations and societies. Stable and predictable national global systems were neded, he said, to achieve and sustain such objectives. "The WTO is one such system which is part of the global governance mechanism for meeting these objectives and the Doha Round is an attempt to improve this system," he said.

He said that he was not the only person advocating this cause, the G-20 has said the it would like to see a successful completion of the Doha Round. the same has been said by several ministers and ministerial meetings all over the globe, by global leaders in the context of addressing world food crisis and by those addressing the issue of ongoing economic crisis and development such as at the recent UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development.

"I have a number of other substantive reasons for doing so and my being from the WTO is not one of them. Of course, being at the WTO has given me some exposure and perspective to identify certain substantive factors which form the basis of what I want to share with you," he said

He tried to allure the Indian audience by saying "we have to also bear in mind the growing economic prominence of India in today's world and the aspirations and concerns associated with such a position......The Doha negotiations is the first place in international interactions which reflects the changes in international political economy due to growing economic importance of China, Brazil and India. Doha negotiations have shown that today, the mini group of large negotiating entities in any multilateral negotiation will always include these countries."

Singh said that India's concerns and evolution in the context of global trade and trade negotiations can can be illustrated through five perspectives. Independent India's developed process started with export pessimism and underestimation of the likelihood or importance of investment from abroad. Today, the export pessimism was no longer a part of India's international trade policy making, he said and added that factors which have changed this perspective were also those that have led to higher rates of growth which neither Indians not the world thought were possible for a large nation like India.

Dealing with the second perspective, he said that the textbooks and received wisdom suggest that industrialisation in developing countries was constrained by tariff peaks and tariff escalation imposed by developed countries on exports of developing countries - this situation would change with the successful completion of the Doha Round.

On the third perspective, he said that the successful completion of the Doha Round would lead to the rectification of major distortions in the global market primarily caused by the subsidisation policies of the developed countries.

Referring to the fourth perspective, he said that the present non-level playing field which reflect that the dominant players in international political economy are only developed coutries would undergo a change

On the fifth perspective, he said that the derieved view from the above factors was that the developing countries have common interests and should work together as a group for addressing their concerns, particularly that relating to poor farmers and raising capacities.

However, there was no single cohesive group comprising developing countries, whether it was in the area of agriculture, industry or services, he said. The G-20 agriculture group consists of diverse interests exporters and importers. This showed the willingness of G-20 countries to take the negotions forward, he said

"The implications of these developments, lessons from Doha Round negotiations are that no single country can today impose its will on others, nor should we expect cohesive groupins along the lines of developed and developing countries,' he said and added that the slow progress in negotiation was due to balancing diverse interests.

Singh discussed what are on the table for negotiationsFor industrial products the accepted position by developed countries under NAMA is that all their tariffs would be less than 8%. This would include India's longstanding demand for removal of tariff peaks for textiles, clothing, footwear and leather products. There are a significant number of farm products for which a sharp decrease in tariffs would take place, including those for which additional market access is provided by mostly developed countries through tariff rate quotas and for tropical products.

The proposals for addressing non-tariff barriers in specific sectors as well as a proposed horizontal mechanism to deal with them in general were being discussed under NAMA, he said.

According to Singh, the current Doha Round package would result in bound overall trade distorting support (OTDS) reductions by 80% for European Union, 75% for and 70% for US. These disciplines would also result in curbing a concentration of support to any single specific commodity. For cotton the reduction in such support would be earlier and more expeditious and ambitious. Likewise, export subsidies on agriculture would be phased out by 2013.

Developed countries would take greater obligations than developing countries. The levels of obligations would differ between more advanced developing countries, small and vulnerable economies, least developed countries and recently acceded members of the WTO. Flexibilities would be an integral part of the final deal, he said and added the developing countries would have the right to designate their Special Products and use special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for agriculture.

"in the area of trade in services too, we have a substantial likely result, as became evident when in July 2008, the ministers had a signaling conference to get an idea about the main features of the results of Doha negotiations with respect to trade in services," he said.

The Doha package contains also results on anti-dumping, special and differential treatment including duty free quota for least developed countries, greater access to environmental goods and services, improved trade facilitation measures which would reduce administrative and commercial burdens.Environmental norms would be consistant with the WTO.

Quoting the WTO Director General, Pascal Lamy who described the Doha Round as "a low hanging fruit", Singh called upon upon member countries to work with a constructive mindset for a successful conclusion of negotiations in the interests of complex issues like climate change, financial and economic crisis which need greater collaborative understanding and assistance.