USTR's 'new approach' may re-open negotiations
The WTO Ministerial meeting for negotiations under the Doha Development Round is expected in January-February 2010 but when actually the round would be concluded is anybody's guess. The uncertainty looms because of the US Trade Representative (USTR's) suggestion of a totally 'new approach' to the Doha Round that may re-open negotiations on agreed issues and raise new issues such as labour and environment. This course of action may delay the Doha outcome by as long as five years, Mr. G. K. Pillai, Union Commerce Secretary, said here.
Addressing a Roundtable on 'Doha Round of Negotiations in WTO: Taking Stock and the Way Ahead', organised by FICCI here, Mr. Pillai said: “The current line of thinking in the US is that it has given too much in the negotiations and received too little, that there is little new market access in the package so far negotiated and there is lack of transparency on market access”.
Mr. Pillai was responding to the concern expressed by Dr. Amit Mitra, Secretary General FICCI, over the 'extra emphasis”: placed by the USTR on opening up of markets by big emerging countries including India. Both the USTR's recent remarks and the 2009 US Trade Policy Agenda point out that the linchpin to the success of the Doha Round would remain securing meaningful market access commitments in agriculture, NAMA and services, particularly from key advanced countries.
Dr. Mitra said: “Such signals leave us worried that the new US Administration might not be willing to proceed on the basis of the 'Doha mandate'. Instead, it may attempt to 'reopen' the negotiations, or included 'new areas' into the negotiating agenda. This is simply not acceptable to us”.
The Commerce Secretary explained that the US was expected to come back to the negotiating countries in September 2009 by which time it would have completed its internal review. For the next one year technical discussion would continue at the WTO, albeit at a low key. While informal Ministerial consultations would continue at the Cairns Group, APEC and OECD meetings etc. from June to October 2009, a mini-Ministerial is likely to be held at Geneva in November 2009 to do the stocktaking. As of now, it would appear that the WTO Ministerial would be convened in January-February 2010.
Mr. Pillai said a new dimension on financial services offers has now surfaced following the post-July 2008 global financial crisis. While no liberalization of financial services seems possible after the outbreak of the financial crisis, many countries may withdraw the current offers, forcing a re-look at the financial services offers.
Dr Mitra maintained that in the context of NAMA, flexibilities were essential for several of India's industries. That is why, he said, FICCI was opposed to any restrictive 'anti-concentration' clause that would curb the scope of using such flexibilities.
Further, sectoral tariff negotiations should remain strictly non-mandatory, he said. This was the feedback received in industry consultations FICCI organized last year in different cities. “There should not be any provision to establish linkages between 'sectorals' and 'flexibilities'. Because these are essentially two different aspects of NAMA negotiations, Dr. Mitra pointed out.
The roundtable was also addressed by Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Direct & Chief Executive, ICRIER and Mr. Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International.
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry