Trade officials from 35 countries are meeting here tomorrow, a day before their ministers begin informal WTO discussions in search of a global trade agreement under Doha Round that desperately seeks a breakthrough.
Before the trade ministers and interlocutors from key member countries and groupings of the World Trade Organisation give their viewpoints on a range of contentious issues, officials would test the water to see the areas that can see meeting point and others where more work needs to be done.
Commerce and Industry Minister, Anand Sharma, who took the initiative of hosting the informal meeting of important countries and blocs like the US, European Union, Brazil, China and Australia, remained busy today with officials.
While it is being seen as a bold step by India to re-energise the Doha talks after they collapsed at Geneva in July 2008, New Delhi is consciously keeping the pitch low so as not to raise expectations from the meeting on Thursday and Friday.
Since it is an informal meeting, no specific agenda has been set. “That may create chaos,” an official said.
Whether, as a host India would be under pressure to show flexibility in some of the issues on which it had been taking tough stand, the official involved in the negotiations said, “we are only facilitating the meeting... rest is up to the ministers”.
After giving signs of flexibility in May-June, India has, of late, been reiterating its stated position of not compromising the interest of farmers and fledgling industry while agreeing to open markets under any WTO global deal.
Coordinators of grouping of different interests like G-20 (developing countries), Cairns group (farm exporting countries like Australia), NAMA-11 (grouping of developing countries on industrial products) and African groups would hold wide consultations to measure the depth of differences and how they can be bridged.
The vexed issues include high level of farm subsidy in the developed countries, demand for better market access for industrial products in developing countries, level of farmers’ protection in the poor and developing countries like India and market-opening for services.
The Doha talks, launched in 2001 were to conclude and culminate into a multilateral trade—opening pact in 2005.
However, the Round was marred by lack of desire both by the rich and developing nations to open their markets while seeking new pastures for their own goods.
After launch at Doha, the Qatari capital, the WTO has held full-fledged two Ministerial Meetings (the highest policy making organ) at Cancun and Hong Kong without much success.
With the global economy in the grip of recession, the world trade is about to shrink by 9 per cent in 2009 as per the WTO estimates. Director General of the multilateral body Pascal Lamy, who would be here for the New Delhi meeting, has been expressing disappointment with countries becoming more and more protective about their markets.