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India upset Nairobi global trade talks sidestepped 'development'

India upset Nairobi global trade talks sidestepped development

Nairobi: Even as rich nations conceded to the demands of emerging economies on issues such as finding a permanent solution to disputes over government stockpiling of food for security, India protested the non-inclusion of development agenda at the latest global trade talks that concluded here on Saturday.

After a day's extension, the scheduled four-day Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WETO) concluded here on Saturday with India opposing the moves by some countries to bully others into a pact despite the principles of consensus at such talks -- an recurring phenomenon now.

"The Ministerial Declaration circulated today reflects the division among the WTO membership on the issue of the reaffirmation of the Doha mandate," an official statement said, while seeking to make it clear that both the emerging and poor economies wanted "development" to be at the core of any decision.

"While the majority were in favour of such reaffirmation, a few members opposed the reaffirmation of the Doha mandate. This marks a significant departure from the fundamental WTO principle of consensus-based decision making," said India's statement issued at the end of the talks.

"Notwithstanding the difficulty in the negotiations, the draft declaration reflects India's demand for a reaffirmation from all members to work towards a permanent solution on public stock-holding," said the statement -- a decision which one thought had been acceded to during the previous talks itself.

"Utterly disappointed," said Commerce and Industries Minister Nirmala Sitharamnan, lamenting that unanimous reaffirmation of the Doha Development Round, launched in 2001 at the Qatari capital, was not honoured by some countries.

The minister, nevertheless, said that India at least ensured that the Bali package, arrived at during the previous trade talks in Indonesia on public stockholding of grain -- like the public distribution system in India -- was reaffirmed, with a commitment to work toward a permanent solution.

Sitharaman also said the reaffirmation for special safeguard mechanism -- which allows developing countries to resort to higher customs duties on some farm produce in a bid to protect the interests of its farmers -- was another feather in the cap of the Indian team that negotiated at the talks.

"Wish to say that SSM (special safeguard mechanism) was not even on the cards when we arrived at Nairobi. India got it in and ensured a decision for a work plan too notwithstanding a lack of consensus," said the minister, even as she disapproved the language that was not entirely to New Delhi's liking.

In the previous Bali conference, trade ministers had agreed to what is called the "peace clause", that till 2017, no country can move the dispute settlement body of the WTO against another member if its government was found to be breaching the level of subsidy freeze that was permitted under the pact.

India said the so-called "special and differential treatment" agreed to at the talks was also noteworthy.

During the talks, India had made a strong pitch on protecting its farmers. "It is our duty to safeguard the legitimate interests of poor farmers and food security of hundreds of millions in developing countries," the Indian minister said.

"We cannot continue with the rhetoric of a development agenda without even a reasonable attempt to address issues of primary concern to developing economies," she said. "Its regrettable that longstanding issues of interest to a large number of developing countries are being put aside for the future and new issues of recent vintage are being taken up with unusual enthusiasm."

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