Is India being dogmatic at Bali?

Dec 05 2013, 05:37 IST
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SummaryWhile safeguarding the interests of the country’s agriculture, India needs to adopt a give-and-take approach and ensure that the WTO deliberations are fruitful

Even as the 9th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Bali is under way, there is maximum likelihood of a failure to reach a consensus on a deal encompassing a small sub-set of Doha Development Agenda (DDA). That is, a deal primarily comprising a part of Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and a Duty Free Quota Free (DFQF) package for the LDCs. While the DDA is a small scope of the WTO and an even smaller is the scope of the current issues on anvil, pressure is being built to suggest that if the deal on these three aspects is not clinched, the very importance of the WTO as an institution would be in question. India, just as on earlier occasions, is being projected as a spoilsport.

The picture of the multilateral trade and trade-related regime, thus painted, is inherently flawed and misleading. Global trade negotiations, involving countries with varying stages of development, are bound to take time to conclude. Therefore, one more Ministerial meet, without a substantive outcome, does not announce a death-knell neither for the multilateralism nor for the WTO as a global trade institution. Panic to conclude a half-baked trade deal, bereft of real developmental concerns, in the name of so-called ‘saving the WTO’, would be erroneous.

Spurious would be the conclusion that it is India which has prevented the conclusion of the deal. If at all, Indian viewpoints are reflected in the coalition of the G33, representing several more countries. Countries like China, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico, to name a few, have echoed India’s focus on ‘development’ by expressing concerns over providing food security to the poor, binding commitments for implementation-related financial and technical assistance to countries needing special and differential treatment in the realm of trade facilitation, and meaningful commitments towards LDCs’ package on DFQF.

In addition, Indian leadership and negotiators have shown considerable flexibilities for clinching the deal by moving away from the ‘single undertaking’, whereby all the issues of the DDA should have been concluded to a position where only three aspects of the WTO agenda were to be negotiated. In that too, instead of making amendments to the AoA on provisions relating to the cap on subsidies which was based on the global economic realities of the 1980s, Indian negotiators showed flexibilities in terms of discussing the ‘peace clause’. The fact that India’s developmental imperatives are similar to several other developing nations

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