WTO trade text ‘violates’ Doha mandate

Geneva, October 7:

India has told key negotiators at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that developing countries will not agree to current trade proposals that ask them to ‘do more’ than wealthy nations in cutting industrial tariffs in the ongoing Doha Round of trade talks.

“Unfortunately in the industrial tariffs text, developing countries are required to do more than developed countries,” Ujal Singh Bhatia, India’s ambassador to the WTO, said on Friday, adding that such demands were a ‘violation’ of the mandate agreed by WTO members at a meeting in Hong Kong.

“We say ‘please respect the mandate before we sign up’,” he added. Bhatia, along with the chief negotiators of US, EU and Brazil, was speaking at a panel discussing agriculture at the WTO Public Forum — an annual event aimed at public consultation on key global trade issues.

The Doha Round of trade talks and at Hong Kong later — that are aimed at making the rules governing international trade equally applicable to all countries in order to ensure that developing countries benefit from global free trade. But the negotiations have teetered on the brink of collapse several times, and the latest attempt to kick start it began on September 3 in Geneva, based on lengthy and complex negotiating texts written up by the three chairs of the negotiations committees on agriculture, industrial market access and services.

Bhatia’s comments came after chief US negotiator Joseph Glauber said negotiators had made a ‘lot of progress’ in the last year. “We now have a text on the table for serious negotiations on Non-Agricultural Market Access and agriculture. The solution lies somewhere in those ranges (proposed in the texts). The US has an idea where they might be. If solutions are to be found they will be found in the text in the next few weeks and months,” Glauber said.

Bhatia also made a strong case for removing a range of agricultural products, such as rice and other staples, from the proposed tariff cuts because they are seen as vital for protecting rural livelihoods, village development and food security.

“Any disruption to the livelihood of farmers can be extremely destabilising for our countries,” the Indian envoy said. “We have to ensure that power of governments to intervene on behalf of farmers is not circumscribed in the negotiations.”

Although mention of these products — known as Special Products — has been left out of the negotiating text, the US has been pushing developing countries hard to narrow down their lists.