Business Standard, March 14, 2003

India today softened its stance on the four contentious Singapore issues of investment, trade facilitation, government procurement and competition policy and said it was willing to engage in talks if the developed countries offered market access to Indian exports, addressed the implementation issues and operationalised the special and differential provisions under WTO.

At the same time, India expressed concern that there had not been much progress on agriculture negotiations without which Cancun could be a failure.

“We need to see progress in substance,” said SN Menon, additional secretary in the commerce ministry, at the partnership conclave organised by Consumer Unity & Trust Society.

Menon also cautioned that unless the special and differential provisions were operationalised, the benefits of TRIPS and public health were made available to developing and under-developed countries and the pending implementation issues of the Uruguay Round sorted out, “it would be very difficult to have a package that is win-win” for the developed and developing countries.

“India is still not fully convinced that the issues should be part of the multilateral trade framework under WTO but negotiations are a dynamic process. If we get market access we may have a look at it.

We will wait and see how the overall negotiations progress,” Menon said.

Officials said EU wanted India’s support on commencement of negotiations on the four issues and in return was willing to support India’s stand on agriculture.

They, however, said that India had not changed track and was sticking to the stand taken at the Doha meeting of trade ministers from WTO member countries.

While EU had been pushing for the inclusion of the issues, India was continuously opposing it with support from the United States.

India had maintained that the issue should be studied in detail by the working groups before taking a decision on bringing them under the multilateral trade framework.

The Doha declaration had said that at the next ministerial (at Cancun), the ministers would decide whether it was time for commencing negotiations.

Menon said that trade facilitation was an important aspect and India was moving towards reduction in transaction costs. India was simplifying the rules for government procurement, he said.

In case of investment, the rules had been liberalised unilaterally to attract foreign investment, he said, adding that the Competition Bill had been cleared by Parliament.

Earlier in the day, European Union trade commissioner Pascal Lamy after a meeting with commerce and industry minister Arun Jaitley said that EU and India had come closer on the Singapore issues.