Zee Media Bureau
Washington: As the deadline to sign the WTO pact to ease worldwide customs rules lapsed at midnight in Geneva on Thursday, two influential American lawmakers on Friday criticised India for digging its heels in on the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Although senior officials in New Delhi said India is willing to sign a global trade deal, which it has torpedoed, US House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp said: "India's actions last night to bring down implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement are completely unacceptable and put into doubt its credibility as a responsible trading partner."
"As we determine next steps, I am committed to the WTO as an institution, and I hope that we can salvage the Trade Facilitation Agreement, either with or without India," he said in a statement.
"It's one thing for a country to be a tough negotiator. It is entirely another to agree to a deal with your trading partners, and then just simply walk away months later, insisting instead on one-sided changes," said House Ways and Means Committee's Trade Subcommittee Chairman Devin Nunes.
"That's what India has done here by going back on its word, running the risk of eliminating any sense of good will toward it," Nunes said.
In New Delhi, senior officials said India is willing to sign the deal if other WTO members can agree to its parallel demand for concessions on stockpiling food.
It was not immediately clear if the latest comments by Indian officials would open a window for the deal to be resurrected.
In Geneva, a trade diplomat from a developing nation said: "The trust that countries have in what India says is going to be significantly diminished."
The officials in New Delhi said the deal could be signed as early as September.
"It is ridiculous to say the Bali deal is dead," said a senior official at the trade ministry, referring to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) pact that was agreed on the Indonesian island of Bali last year.
"We are totally committed to the TFA, and only asking for an agreement on food security," said the official, who cannot be identified under briefing rules.
Another trade official said: "We expect that the (WTO) director general will call a meeting in September and we are ready to sign the deal in September itself, provided TFA and food security issues are passed together. We are quite hopeful for the deal."
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was on a visit to India, told Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier on Friday that India's refusal to sign the trade deal had undermined the country's image.
Several WTO member states voiced frustration after India's demands led to the collapse of the first major global trade reform pact in two decades.WTO ministers had already agreed the global reform of customs procedures known as "trade facilitation" in Bali last December, but were unable to overcome last-minute Indian objections and get it into the WTO rule book by a July 31 deadline.
India has insisted that, in exchange for signing the trade facilitation agreement, it must see more progress on the parallel pact.
India's new nationalist government has insisted that a permanent agreement on its subsidised food stockpiling must be in place at the same time as the trade facilitation deal, well ahead of a 2017 target set in Bali last year.
Some countries, including the United States, the European Union, Australia, Japan and Norway, have already discussed a plan to exclude India from the facilitation agreement and push ahead regardless, officials involved in the talks said.
(With Agency inputs)
First Published: Saturday, August 2, 2014, 07:56