India ready to host WTO meeting; farmers` bodies plan protest
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Last Updated: Thursday, September 03, 2009, 00:24
New Delhi: Trade officials from 35 countries met here today setting the tone for tomorrow's WTO informal Ministerial meeting being hosted by India to inject political momentum into Doha talks, meant to open the USD 32-trillion global trade.

A day before the meeting of key ministers from the US, European Union, Australia, Brazil, China, South Africa and Canada, among others, begin amid tight security, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma held several bilateral meetings.

Sharma met Australian Minister of Trade Simon Crean, News Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser and UK Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander to discuss how the divide between the rich and developing countries be bridged.

Along side, the Left parties and scores of farmers' bodies and NGOs vowed to hold protest demonstrations in the city tomorrow against free trade conclave.

While the meeting in New Delhi is largely an India initiative, the WTO has announced schedule for the Ministerial Meeting of 153 trade ministers (the highest policy-making organ) in Geneva from November 30-December 2. WTO chief Pascal Lamy is also attending the informal meeting here.

The contentious issues include farm subsidy in the developed countries, demand for market access in developing countries and level of farmers protection there.

The paper put up by India before the trade officials today said over the last few months leaders at international meetings, including the G-20 Summits in Washington and London, had set a deadline of 2010 for concluding the Doha Round.

"The political signals have been strong and unambiguous. These expression of political will are encouraging," the paper said.

However, it posed certain questions to the negotiators. These included the issue of transparency and movement of negotiations for opening trade in services (area of great interest to India).

Though, developed countries expect India to show flexibility being the host country, New Delhi reiterated its stand of development dimensions of liberalising the world trade.

Sharma, who will chair the meeting, will inaugurate the deliberations tomorrow and coordinators of groupings of different interest would interact with broader sections to see the depth of differences and how they can be resolved.

Meanwhile, farmers organisations and Left parties have planned protest march against the meeting.

In a joint letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, over 174 farmers' bodies and NGOs said India's attempt to re-energise the WTO talks is "flawed and misguided".

Industry chambers FICCI and CII said the ministerial meeting would provide the much needed momentum to Doha negotiations.

"Delhi Ministerial is significant as ministers representing diverse country groups and coalitions are participating. This will augur well towards bringing the Doha trade talks back on track," Ficci President Harsh Pati Singhania said.

CII said the meeting would be a platform for different interest groups to come together. "This would make the meeting inclusive...," CII Director General Chandrajit Banerjee said.

Assocham, has asked the government raise its voice against treating domestic industry on equal footing with those of developed world in WTO's mini trade minister conference.

It said the advanced countries continue to provide liberally subsidies and protection to their industries, and insist that developing world should not resort to raise barriers in the smooth flow of world trade.

"This double speak should be opposed tooth and nail..," Assocham Secretary General D S Rawat said.

Later in the day an official statement said the discussions at the preparatory meet to the ministerial meeting beginning tomorrow was confined to "process-related" issues.

"The intention was to gauge whether a broad-based consensus could be arrived at on how Ministers would like to see the process of negotiation fast-tracked," it said.

On the basis of the discussion paper, participants discussed the issue of timeliness for completing modalities in agriculture and NAMA and for revised offers in services and the sequence in which all areas being negotiated under the Doha Round are to be completed, it said.

The development mandate, which is the bedrock of the Doha Round was also emphasised during the meeting.

"It was stated that focus had to be maintained on development concerns in developing economies," it added.

Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar chaired the preparatory meeting.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, September 03, 2009, 00:24

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