INDIA NEGOTIATING REGIONAL TRADE PACTS WITH ASEAN, SINGAPORE, THAILAND, SOUTH AFRICA ETC.
RTAs SHOULD NOT RAISE TRADE BARRIERS FOR NON-MEMBERS, SAYS INDIA
SEMINAR ON WTO NEGOTIATIONS ON RTAs BEGINS
Date : 27 Mar 2003
Location : New Delhi
India is negotiating a Regional Trade and Investment Area with the ASEAN, a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement with Singapore and Preferential Trade Agreements (PTA) / Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with Thailand, Egypt, South Africa and Uruguay. India is already a member of some Regional Trading Arrangements (RTAs), namely, the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement, the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, the Bangkok Agreement and the recently concluded Indo-Afghanistan Preferential Trading Agreement. India is a strong votary of the multilateral trading system embodied in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). At the same time, it recognises that RTAs do provide an alternate window for faster and deeper trade liberalisation amongst groups of countries and that RTAs are, therefore, complementary to the multilateral trading system. However, India has concerns that at times RTAs have led to the raising of trade barriers for non-RTA member countries and to trade diversion.
As almost 60% of the global trade is channelled through RTAs, it is vital to ensure that such tendencies are addressed and to the extent possible disciplined within the multilateral trade framework. This was stated by Shri S.N. Menon, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, in his inaugural address at a National Seminar on WTO Negotiations on RTAs here this morning. The 2-day Seminar is the first being organised by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, under the UNCTAD/DFID/ Department of Commerce project on strategies & preparedness for trade and globalisation in India.
The Doha mandate provides an opportunity to address these concerns by clarifying and improving disciplines and procedures under the WTO provisions for RTAs. At the same time, the mandate also requires that development concerns should be taken into account in these negotiations. In this backdrop, it becomes important to consider improvements in GATT Article XXIV as well as review mechanisms provided under the Committee on RTAs. Discussions have taken place in the Negotiating Group on Rules on the transparency issues, Shri Menon said.
The Seminar is being attended by a number of experts including Shri Bhagirath Lal Das, formerly India’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the GATT; Mr. Sam Laird, Chief of the Trading System Division, UNCTAD; Shri S. Narayanan, formerly India’s Ambassador to the WTO; Shri Bijit Bora, Counsellor, Economic Research Division, WTO; Mr. Luis Abugattas Majluf of the Trade Division, UNCTAD; Dr. Rajesh Chadha, Advisor & Chief Economist, NCAER; Dr. Manoj Pant, Professor, JNU; Prof. B Bhattacharya, Dean/IIFT; Shri A. Hoda, ICRIER; Shri Harshvardhan Singh, Secretary-cum-Principal Advisor, TRAI; Dr. Biswajit Dhar, Director, WTO Centre/IIFT; Shri Siddhartha Rajagopal, Executive Director, TEXPROCIL; and Dr. Veena Jha, Coordinator/UNCTAD, Delhi.
The Seminar aims at focussing on specific aspects where individual non-members, particularly India, may have been adversely affected on account of the establishment of certain RTAs. Such adverse impact on non-members, for instance, could arise from possible trade-diverting effects of certain preferential rules of origin or the denial of opportunity of fast-track procedures to non-RTA members for recognition of sanitary & phyto-sanitary (SPS) / technical barriers to trade (TBT) measures. Certain elements of customs valuation provisions and trade defence mechanisms within RTA members also do not appear to be in conformity with the existing WTO disciplines in these areas. A discussion paper highlighting these and other concerns regarding RTAs was circulated at the Seminar so as to obtain inputs of the experts which would prove useful in the context of the negotiations already underway under the Doha Work Programme for improving and clarifying WTO provisions on RTAs through proposals that could be put forward in the negotiations. Impact of the inclusion of non-trade issues like labour, environment etc., in the RTAs, could also figure in the deliberations.