Anand Sharma, India's Minister for Industry and Commerce, said that although the pace of progress in world trade negotiations had been disappointingly slow, a meeting of 19 trade ministers hosted by him on the margins of the annual meeting of the OECD here had resulted in “substantive talks” on a way to move forward.
He described the tenor of the meeting, which was held at the behest of Australia but hosted by India, and in which all the WTO negotiating groups were represented, as: “Very good, very positive, very frank.”
India, Mr. Sharma said, was “committed to an early conclusion of the present round of WTO talks” so that a rule-based, multilateral trade regime could be put into place to correct historical imbalances and address the mandate of the Doha Round. “This Round is dedicated to development and developing countries,” the Minister told The Hindu in an exclusive interview. “The 19-odd countries which have met at India's initiative and which include representatives from various developing country groups such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Cotton Four (Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Benin), African, Caribbean and Pacific nations (ACP), the NAMA 11 (Non-Agricultural Market Access Group comprising Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Namibia, the Philippines, South Africa, Tunisia) and the Group of 33, as well as the developed world, can give this process the required momentum to take these discussions to the final conclusion.
“These countries have different levels of development, where challenges and aspirations differ. But there is unanimity on special dispensation for the least developed countries (LDCs),” Mr. Sharma said.
The world wanted to know India's thinking about global economic engagement and how India had been able to withstand the adverse impact of the world economic crisis. “India's position is that what the world needs is not the present tendency of protectionism with countries trying to look inwards, especially now, with the contracting of major developed economies. This is the time to bring down existing barriers, not create new ones, since robust global trade in a multilateral trade regime will accelerate the process of recovery while the reverse will slacken the pace,” the Minister said.
Breaking the impasse
Mr Sharma denied allegations levelled in certain sections of the western press that India was one of the countries that torpedoed the last round of trade talks. “India has been credited with breaking the impasse in the WTO and ensuring that text-based negotiations resume in Geneva. There are three paragraphs to this effect in the G20 document,” Mr Sharma insisted. He also forcefully rejected charges of protectionism levelled against India, especially in the banking, insurance and retail sectors, which he said had to be opened in a “calibrated manner.''