August 22, 2006, New Delhi

Members of the Parliament were unanimous that the government should put in place a well informed structure of parliamentarians to influence India’s position vis-à-vis key issues under negotiation at various international fora.

The Government should try to gather the sense of the House before engaging itself into multilateral trade negotiations. For the purpose, a core team of informed MPs cutting across various parties be formulated to advise the government on the step ahead in negotiations. This was suggested by the team of Parliamentarians speaking at the fourth meeting of Parliamentarians’ Forum on Economic Policy Issues (PAR-FORE) organised by CUTS International in the capital.

Mr Suresh Prabhu, MP, SS said that the rules of the House may be changed to bring in this order and any negotiation issue like WTO should be first discussed in this group to form a consensus. This multi-stakeholder exercise will bring to the table more divergent views and solutions that can help garner a favourable negotiation for the country.

The MPs were discussing the ‘Suspension of Doha Talks – Reasons, Possible After Effects & Implications for India’ at the Meeting.

The Parliamentarians felt that the suspension of WTO talks was not a victory for India. It was infact a set back on multilateralism as most of the countries would now go for bilateral agreements.

Endorsing the views expressed by the other Parliamentarians, Mr Yashwant Sinha, MP, BJP said that India must not let Doha round fail completely. “Let Doha round come to some conclusion by next year else it will have a dampening effect on all international negotiations. We should leave the agriculture aside for the time being and negotiate on other issues including services which contributes more than 50% to our GDP”, Mr Sinha said.

Sounding pessimist, Dr P C Alexander, MP, Independent said that the developing nations must realise that we would not get anything from the developed world just because development agenda was on the WTO table.

“Stand of US in multilateral trade negotiations has always been obstinate. We need to take the subsidy item more seriously than we have done till now. Agriculture subsidy by US on commodities and EU on dairy and milk products must be given top priority in all future meetings”, Mr Alexandar said.

Citing the example of cotton subsidy in US, he said that subsidy on cotton is US was almost equal to the price of cotton and this was the reason that they could undersell and Indian farmers have suffered badly because of cheap import of cotton.

Mr Sharad Joshi, MP, SBP said that it was in our interest that we did not allow the talks to collapse. He suggested that we should use the Marakesh Agreement to make US and EU bring down subsidies.

In his remarks, Mr Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International suggested setting up of an International Trade Department in the Ministry of Commerce. This was also earlier suggested by the Standing Committee on Commerce headed by Mr Murli Manohar Joshi though not much had happened on the recommendation. He said that India was entering into a large number of non-multilateral agreements like FTA with Sri Lanka, CECA with Singapore and another FTA with Thailand in progress. But the negotiating capacity in the area of trade was limited with the Trade Policy Division of Ministry of Commerce having insufficient staff strength and a lot to handle.