Sunday, 30 August 2009

WTO Delhi meet to bat for poor nations

Sudheer Pal Singh & Jyoti Mukul
New Delhi August 30, 2009

Meeting will confine discussion to processes involved in building consensus among members

The informal ministerial meeting on the Doha trade negotiations to be held in New Delhi next week will throw open the issue of inclusiveness of developing economies, particularly the least developed countries (LDCs). The meeting will confine discussion to processes involved in building consensus among members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and will not delve into the “content” of the negotiations or specific themes.

The inclusiveness concern of developing nations forms a part of the set of issues identified by the commerce ministry to be taken up for discussion in the ministerial meeting on a priority basis.

In a paper circulated among 36 participating nations for discussion in the meeting of senior officials, India has asked these countries to examine the extent of focus on development concerns of developing economies, particularly the least developed ones, even as systems are put in place to boost trade.

The official-level talks will happen a day before the ministerial talks begin on September 3.

The issues identified by the ministry in the paper form the blueprint for the direction the negotiators could give to the WTO ministers after the talks.

The paper asks the participants to deliberate on how can “the modalities for LDCs be tailored to ensure effective market access for their products as well as to provide meaningful assistance for them to build capacity in order to benefit from this round”.

The LDC group comprises the world’s 32 poorest countries in the WTO with common interests and includes Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Congo, Maldives, Nepal, Tanzania, Myanmar and the Central African Republic, among others. Tanzania is the coordinator of the group.

India has also asked officials to dwell upon how the timeline of 2010 for concluding the Doha round can be met and if it is possible to build sufficient consensus for another informal ministerial meeting to review the progress by December this year.

The paper also directs officials to ensure progress in areas other than the conventional issues of agriculture and the non-agricultural market access (NAMA).

“Negotiations in Geneva have so far focused on building consensus on agriculture and NAMA. This is in consonance with the sequencing envisaged in the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration,” said the discussion paper. Another important point of consideration in the New Delhi ministerial is abstaining from any new approach towards the negotiations.

“Of late, new ideas have been floated to alter the concept of the modalities, for instance, enhanced transparency, a no-surprises package and complete modalities. In light of the 2010 timeline, members may like to reflect on the necessity for and the implications of changing a tried and tested process,” said the paper.

Last month, referring to this newly-proposed approach of skipping the discussions on modalities, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma had said, “This is not agreeable to India. There should be a discussion on modalities first.”

During discussions in the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) last month, negotiators, while welcoming the improving “signals of political commitment” to Doha, had expressed concern over a host of unresolved issues, not just in agriculture and NAMA but also in services and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights.

The commerce ministry has said that the objective of the Delhi ministerial meeting is to “weave together” the separate signals of commitment to move the multilateral process forward. The meeting, in which members from around 36 countries are likely to participate, “is not aimed at any specific agenda. It only tries to build the consensus on how ministers would like to see the process of negotiation fast-tracked”, Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar had said last week.

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