Global trade talks to resume, cautious welcome by India

Sunday, 28 January 2007, 06:00 Hrs
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Davos: Trade ministers of some 30 countries decided to resume full-scale talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO), even as India cautiously welcomed the decision, hoping the development agenda is preserved.

"The process will begin in 10 days for technical consultations among members in Geneva and then the talks will start at the official level," India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said after an informal WTO ministerial meeting here.

"Negotiations at the ministerial level will commence only if there is progress," the minister said. "Our position is absolutely clear. We will not negotiate the livelihood of our farmers."

Saturday's meeting was held on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) meetings at this Swiss ski resort. The talks were suspended last July because of differences between the rich and developing countries.

Although no specific issue was discussed, a statement issued by Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard said a strong wish was expressed for quick resumption of full-scale talks under different negotiating groups to hammer a deal.

Significantly for India, the Swiss minister also said that parallel to talks on agriculture and industrial goods, progress was also required in services, where New Delhi is seeking greater, cross-border access for its professionals.

Speaking to reporters, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy said he was not sure when the hard numbers in terms of cuts in farm subsidies and tariffs will be worked out.

"But there will need to be a new U.S. offer on farm subsidies. There will need to be a new EU offer on tariffs. There will need to be a new offer from India and Brazil on manufactured goods," Lamy added.

Trade analysts said the final contours of the accord must be in place by July, since the authority of President George W. Bush to enter into deals and send them to Congress for a yes-no vote under a fast-track approach will expire after that.

Articulating India's stand, Kamal Nath told reporters that New Delhi would be willing to move forward only if rich nations show flexibility.

"The US and the EU have expressed some good intentions. But the resumption must be meaningful and should reflect the sensitivities of developing countries. This is a development round. For us, it is about getting, not giving," he added.

India, along with Brazil, has been a key player at the negotiations, also called the Doha Development Round.

"I think that by end March or say the beginning of April, there should be some sort of breakthrough. But much also depends on how far EU and US move forward on subsidies," said Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorin.

"I believe we are back in business," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said, even as he hinted at offering an additional cut of 10 percent in average farm tariff against the offer of 39 percent made earlier.

The group of 20 developing countries, led by India and Brazil, want a cut of 54 percent by EU, while the US has been demanding a 75-percent reduction. Developing countries also want the US to cut trade-distorting farm subsidies.

India Inc welcomed the resumption of talks, saying it was a positive development. "At the same time, talks should not lose sight of the development agenda," said R. Seshasayee, president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Source: IANS
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