Posted by: Mehul Srivastava on September 3, 2009
A fresh – and informal - round of negotiations began Sept 3 in New Delhi, hoping to make some movement towards a global free trade pact that could get signed in 2010, with trade ministers from 35 countries expected to spend the weekend hammering out texts of the agreement.
They might have trouble concentrating, though – protesters ringed the headquarters of the lobby group where the talks with the World Trade Organization members kicked off, and more protests are expected through the weekend. Close to 1,000 farmers holding placards protested peacefully in the heart of Delhi’s commercial district as Mercedes Benzes pulled up to the gates of the lobbying group.
And depending on who one listened to – the wooed, or the wooer - the talks were either close to complete, or stuck over irreconcilable differences.
The big holdouts, as earlier, are India and China, and this time around, it’s the turn of the trade ministers from these 35 countries to convince India that could benefit by join this free trade alliance.
That’s a tough sell, especially if one goes by the comments by the Indian Commerce Minister in the days leading up to the talks – he warned an industry lobby in Delhi that “In some quarters, it has been suggested that most issues have been settled and we are almost in end game,” he said. “However it would be apparent that there are still a few gaps and large number of unresolved issues.”
He was reacting to news reports in Delhi Sept 3 from the Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean, and the WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy that the negotiations were entering an “end-game,” using exactly the same phrase while talking to different publications.
The talks are a continuation of the so-called Doha round, that started off in 2001 and have had six follow-up meetings. The last round of talks fell apart in July 2008 when India and China joined hands to fight against what they called U.S.-led demands to end subsidies to farmers. This time around, the old disagreements have threatened to bubble to the surface, with Sharma referring to “historical distortions,” and denying that India was to blame for the collapse of talks in July 2008. India and China are pushing hard for the U.S. to make concessions on subsidies to American farmers – an equally tough compromise that remains a strong sticking point. “
The 2010 deadline remains in sight for now – and there’s a Sept 24-25 meeting of G-20 nations in Pittsburgh where the pact will feature heavily. Lamy, the WTO director general, pointed out that global trade fell nearly 10% in the 2008-09 fiscal year as countries raised trade barriers in response to the economic crisis, but that’s not as big a stick for India – it’s economy grew over close to 6% even in the midst of the worst economic crisis the world has ever faced, and its stock market is roaring, up 62% since January.