‘WTO meet failure: India not blamed’

Terra firma:India gained the goodwill of the rest of the world due to its firm stand, says Minister Suresh Prabhu.AFP  

For the first time in the more than two-decade history of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), India was not blamed for the failure of a meeting of the global organisation’s apex decision-making body as witnessed in the Argentine capital, a perception — according to Suresh Prabhu, Commerce Minister — that was important for the country.

The WTO’s Ministerial Conference had, on earlier occasions, ended without a Ministerial Declaration in Seattle (1999), Cancun (2003) and Geneva (in 2009 and partly in 2011) owing to a lack of consensus among member-nations from the rich and the poor world on issues relating to market-opening commitments in farm and industrial goods. India was blamed for these as well as for the failure of some of WTO’s ‘mini-ministerials’ (meetings by a group of some important members of the WTO from the developing and developed world), most notably in June 2007 in Potsdam and July 2008 in Geneva on agriculture issues. Speaking to a select group of journalists, including this writer from The Hindu , in Buenos Aires a day after the meeting ended in a deadlock, Mr. Prabhu, who led India’s negotiating team, said, “I was told by quite a few people who have attended almost all ministerials that for the first time, India is not blamed. This is very important. India has always been the whipping boy, and people need whipping boys,” he said.

‘Not a walkover’

Talking about India’s efforts to protect food security right and centrality of development in multilateral trade negotiations as well as its views against the introduction of new issues like e-commerce, investment facilitation and norms relating to small firms into the ongoing Doha Round talks, the Minister further said, “India is not a country that can be just walked over. We stood our ground, and we took a principled stand as well as practical stand.”

The position of the U.S. to block the demands of more than 100 developing countries, including India and China, for the implementation of their food security programmes without onerous conditions, was widely seen as one of the main reasons for the failure of the talks.

The U.S. had also questioned the centrality of development in WTO talks, another reason for the talks ending without a Ministerial Declaration.

Mr. Prabhu said by standing firm on food security issues, India “gained the goodwill of the rest of the whole world… India has not only protected its national interests, but also not harmed anybody’s interests. That is very important. We promote our interests, but not at the cost or expense of other’s interests.”

(This writer was in Buenos Aires at the invitation of the Indian Commerce Ministry)