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Old wine, new bottle

The sticking point remains the same as before—the new “discussion text” released last week on trade in agricultural and industrial products requires developing countries to grant considerable access to their domestic market in order to draw minuscule concessions from the rich countries.

Print Edition: June 15, 2008

WTO negotiations resume on May 26, but the most likely outcome is yet another stalemate. The sticking point remains the same as before—the new “discussion text” released last week on trade in agricultural and industrial products requires developing countries to grant considerable access to their domestic market in order to draw minuscule concessions from the rich countries.

 
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The document also reflects the pressure on rapidly developing economies like India, China, Brazil and South Africa to open up their markets for manufactured products and agriculture further. Says Biswajit Dhar, Professor and Head (Centre for WTO Studies), Indian Institute of Foreign Trade: “The text is completely unacceptable. It not only hurts the interest of our manufacturing sector, but also seeks to weaken our agriculture.”

Indian authorities have been very vocal in their opposition to the text. Says G.K. Pillai, Commerce Secretary: “We cannot go ahead with the deal without ensuring protection for our national interests.” India is particularly disappointed because the text on non-agricultural marketing access (NAMA) makes its small and medium units extremely vulnerable.

Moreover, the NAMA draft includes proposals to liberalise the market for remanufactured goods (used machinery and equipment, refurbished automobiles, etc.) This is seen as threatening to Indian industry as cheap imports will destroy them. “While completely ignoring farm livelihood concerns, the text only seeks to divide and rule the developing countries,” says Pillai. The Doha Round was launched in 2001, and, by the looks of it, it is no closer to closure than it was when it was launched.

Rohit Viswanath

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