CONSENSUS ON KEY WTO ISSUES
THREE MORE JOIN COALITION ON AGRICULTURE
COMMERCE CONSULTATIVE COMMITTEE MEETS
Date : 22 Aug 2003
Location : New Delhi
There is a broad consensus on India’s approach in the key areas of negotiations in the World Trade Organisation ( WTO ) with the common objective, cutting across party lines, being to safeguard national interests. Speaking at the meeting of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee attached to his Ministry here last evening, Shri Arun Jaitley, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Law and Justice, said this was the impression gathered from the extensive consultations he had held so far with political parties in the run up to the Cancun Ministerial Conference of the WTO scheduled next month.
Giving an overview of the state of play in the WTO in the context of the ongoing negotiations, Shri Jaitley informed Shri Kapil Sibal, MP, Shri Master Mathan, MP and other members present that three more countries viz., Venezuela, Equador and the Philippines, had joined the coalition of India and other developing countries in the joint proposal on agriculture as a counter to the EU-US proposals presented earlier, taking the total of countries now in the coalition to 17. Of the 18 member countries of the Cairns Group of agriculture exporting countries, 10 have joined the coalition, Shri Jaitley added. Shri Vidya Sagar Rao, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry; Shri Dipak Chatterjee, Commerce Secretary; Shri R.R. Shah, Secretary (Industrial Policy and Promotion); and other senior officers participated in the meeting, which focussed on WTO issues and was preceded by a power point presentation on the WTO.
Stating that the two key issues at Cancun would be Agriculture and Investment, Shri Jaitley explained to the MPs India’s interests and concerns in these as well as the other areas of negotiations in the WTO. The three pillars of agricultural negotiations in the WTO were – domestic support or subsidies, export support in terms of credits etc and market access which referred mainly to reduction in tariffs. Shri Jaitley said that given the large number of resource poor farmers in the country and its very large percentage of agriculture dependent population, India’s stand was that subsidies given by the developed countries must be gradually reduced and eventually eliminated so as to ensure a level playing field to developing countries in domestic as well as export markets; there must be some cushioning by way of tariff protection for special products and in addition, there must be special safeguard mechanisms to protect against price fluctuations and surge in imports. While the Harbinson draft of 17/2/03 on agriculture spoke of reduction in subsidies by developed countries, and provided for special products and special safeguard mechanism, the recent EU-US proposals envisaged marginal reduction in subsidies, steeper reduction in tariffs (based on the Swiss formula), no provision for special products and some provision for special safeguard mechanism. Feeling this to be loaded against developing countries, a coalition of countries including India, China, Brazil and 10 of the 18 Cairns Group countries, representing half of the world’s population of farmers, have submitted to the WTO in Geneva on 20/8/03 their counter proposals for taking on board their concerns on agriculture, Shri Jaitley said.
Referring to non-agricultural market access negotiations, Shri Jaitley said this related to proposals by developed countries for moving towards zero tariffs by 2015 and informed that consultations were held with industry in respect of the seven sectors of interest and sensitivity for India such as textiles, leather, gems and jewellery, fish products, auto components and electronics.
Third area was that of TRIPS where the conflict between right of patent holders or intellectual property rights (IPRs) and public health concerns of poorer countries would have to be resolved.
Finally, on the Singapore issues, Shri Jaitley said that India was one of the principal opponents of the proposal for bringing new issues specially Investment in the multilateral framework as it could involve compromising on sovereign policy space and there was no clarity on the scope and content.