History will judge WTO poorly if Nairobi talks fail: India

Nirmala Sitharaman opposes attempts to introduce “new issues” of interests to rich nations; seeks protection of poor farmers' interests.

December 16, 2015 04:37 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 11:04 am IST - Nairobi

India regrets that such longstanding issues of interest to developing countries are being put aside for the future, says Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

India regrets that such longstanding issues of interest to developing countries are being put aside for the future, says Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Warning that history will judge the ministers, from the WTO’s 162 member countries, poorly if the ongoing Doha Round talks' outcomes — meant for a deal to liberalise world trade — perpetuate inequities, India has urged all nations not to overload the current agenda with “new issues” as there are still many outstanding matters such as protection of poor farmers’ interests and food security rights.

Speaking on Wednesday at the Plenary Session of the Nairobi Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the body dealing with global trade rules between nations, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, indirectly referring to alleged attempts by rich countries to impose artificial deadlines for the Doha Round’s conclusion, said: “The manner and haste with which important negotiating meetings are being convened does not inspire confidence.”

Acknowledging persisting differences between member countries on market opening commitments, she said the Round may have run into obstacles, but it is in the collective interest of all the nations to continue to work on all pillars, keeping intact the Round's development dimension (improving the trade prospects of developing and poor countries).

Ms. Sitharaman said India wants the Nairobi meet to re-affirm the Doha Development Agenda and all Ministerial Declarations and Decisions taken since 2001, when the Doha Round was launched. She expressed concern over the fact that the reform process on global trade rules, which began with the Doha Round, appears to be in jeopardy.

The Minister said it was the duty of all the member countries to safeguard the legitimate interests of poor farmers and the food security of hundreds of millions in developing countries, adding that negotiations cannot continue with the rhetoric of a development agenda without even a reasonable attempt to address these outstanding issues.

Ms. Sitharaman said India is concerned over the fact that the reduction in the massive subsidization of the farm sector in developed countries — which was the clear cut mandate of the Doha Round talks — is now not even a subject matter of discussion, leave aside serious negotiations.

India seeks SSM

Recognising these concerns, the G-33 has strongly argued the case for an effective Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) for developing countries and for changing the rules relating to public stockholding for food security purposes, she added. G-33 is a coalition of 48 nations including India and China, which has been taking up the issue of developing countries getting considerable flexibility in limiting market opening of agriculture sector. SSM is a trade remedy mechanism that will allow developing countries to hike duties temporarily to counter the import surge and price falls in farm products.

Ms. Sitharaman said India regrets that such longstanding issues of interest to developing countries are being put aside for the future and instead new issues are being taken up with unusual enthusiasm.

Developed countries, citing the slow progress of the ongoing Doha Round negotiations, want the Round to be either brought to an end during this ministerial conference, or its ambit to be expanded by including ‘new’ issues of their interest and what they call are the latest challenges facing global trade. These include global value chains, e-commerce, labour, environment, competition policies, investment pacts and state-owned enterprises, on all of which the rich nations have much superior standards than the developing and poor countries. Developing and poor countries feel these standards might become non-tariff barriers, hurting their exports.

Ms. Sitharaman, significantly, also said she was surprised by the claim of the rich countries that there is convergence on reforming farm export subsidies of all countries, not just the rich nations but also the developing members. India wants rich countries to first drastically reduce their trade distorting farm subsidies and the developing countries be given an SSM, before the developing countries can be asked to make progress on their farm export subsidies. India had sought greater flexibility for developing nations to permit subsidies on some products to be hiked, while reducing subsidies on some items.

To strengthen her arguments, Ms. Sitharaman referred to the Kenyan President’s statement that Africa’s farmers simply cannot compete against heavily subsidized farmers in developed countries.

Services sector

Turning to the negotiations on services sector, Ms. Sitharaman said the liberalisation of services trade, particularly on cross-border supply including the IT-enabled services and business process outsourcing and easier temporary movement of natural persons including independent and skilled professionals, needs to figure high on the development agenda.

“A special initiative on Services sector is needed. To achieve this, it is imperative to put in place a simple and transparent regulatory framework that encourages growth in the Services sectors,” the Minister said. India is prepared to constructively contribute in all areas within the framework of the negotiating mandates and the core principles of the WTO, Ms. Sitharaman said.

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