September 19, 2005, Western Times

“We need to get the development dimensions back to the centre stage of the WTO Doha Round of negotiations, and the civil society movement should campaign on this before, during and after the Hong Kong Ministerial,” said G. K. Pillai, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, Government of India. “Whatever we agree at Hong Kong will only be a long and arduous journey to get equity in the international trading system”.

He was delivering the inaugural address at a national consultation in the run-up to the WTO’s Hong Kong ministerial conference organised by the Jaipur-based CUTS International. More than 50 participants representing government, civil society organisations, research institutions, media took part in this deliberation where issues relating to trade in agriculture, services, industrial goods were discussed. A few experts from Nepal and Sri Lanka were also present.

The event was organised as part of a project titled “WTO Doha Round & South Asia: Linking Civil Society with Trade Negotiations” being implemented by CUTS with the support of Novib (Oxfam, The Netherlands).

“Civil society is playing a significant role in manifesting people’s concerns with respect to WTO issues and we need support from the civil society in Hong Kong in order to make the outcomes of the Doha Round of negotiations more balanced,” Pillai said.

He emphasised on the negotiations on agriculture and said that it would be impossible for countries like India to reduce tariffs on agricultural goods while rich countries continue with their high level of trade-distorting subsidies.

“Agriculture negotiations are progressing gradually and it would take another four to six rounds of negotiations in order to arrive at a balanced agreement to the satisfaction of all WTO members. WTO is not about market access only and this should be up fronted during negotiations and implementation of WTO rules,” he added.

Welcoming the participants, Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International highlighted the need for sustaining developing-country coalitions at the WTO, like the G-20 group on issues of agriculture. He explained why the Cancun ministerial was not a failure, as many believe. “Cancun was a deferred success or a turning point in WTO negotiations and established that in future poor countries cannot be taken for granted while negotiating on issues having significant implications on livelihoods,” Mehta said.

Poshraj Pandey, President of Kathmandu-based South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics & Environment provided an overview of Nepal’s position on farm goods. Prof. Jacob George of Haryana Institute of Public Administration gave an overview of negotiating positions of South Asian countries on agriculture issues at the WTO.

Prof. Ramesh Chand, Director of National Centre for Agriculture Economics and Policy Research presented an overview of how the agriculture sector of South Asian countries are performing in the post-WTO period.

“An unique feature of South Asian countries is that economic progress has failed to take people out of agriculture. Employment outside agriculture is the key to a country’s progress. India, being a net exporter of agricultural commodities, should take a more proactive stand to get better market access in rich countries and for this India should push for the reduction of trade-distorting subsidies in agriculture,” Prof. Chand argued.

This project is being implemented in five South Asian countries and the research results will be presented at the Hong Kong ministerial conference of the WTO. A feature of this project is that the research is based on stakeholder perceptions. Trade negotiators and trade policy officials in Geneva and at the country level have taken keen interests on this research, so that they are better prepared to negotiate at the WTO with development as the benchmark.