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India tones down ambitions as global trade meet nears

Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu has indicated that seeking a permanent solution to food issue may not be a priority

Subhayan Chakraborty  |  New Delhi 

Suresh Prabhu- Commerce and Industry Minister
Suresh Prabhu, Commerce and Industry Minister

Ahead of the upcoming global meet of the (WTO) next month, the government continued to trim its list of potential achievables with Commerce and Industry Minister now indicating that the nation may not make the demand for a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding of food grains a priority.

India's position on key issues to be discussed at the WTO's 11th ministerial conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires has been thrown under question after Prabhu told Mint newspaper that India’s insistence on a permanent solution to the matter “a mistake” since India already has an indefinite interim solution in place.

This shows the sustained push by developed nations on a diverse range of issues starting from rules for small and medium enterprises to gender rights in global trade to push the agriculture debate off track has worked,  a senior Delhi trade expert said. He added that this may finally bury the issue as developed nations have wanted for a long time.

The minister's comments are also in sharp contrast to that of senior officials who had recently said that finding a permanent solution to the food issue was of paramount importance to India this time. With the current state of trade politics at play globally, the issue may be difficult to resuscitate if a significant push is not made this time, India's ambassador to the WTO and Commerce Secretary had said.

Converging on Argentina between 10-13 December for the biennial trade meet, nations are expected to set the discussion and norms on sectoral issues for another two years, if not more.

Changing stance on issues

Both Deepak and Teaotia had added that getting the developed economies to agree to India’s agricultural demands will be an uphill task since the development-based issues of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) have continued to be sidetracked by richer nations, which had built their economies on agri export.

Most importantly, the government has also decided to tone down the narrative surrounding a proposed global pact on services trade that it had proposed a year back at the WTO. Demands for a trade facilitation agreement on services, based on the similar one in merchandise goods that became functional this February, would be relegated to a later date taking into account the situation at hand, Deepak said recently.

The agreement represents an issue on which India is fighting at the plurilateral level, regional and bilateral level since it wants easier movement of skilled workers between countries, Abhijit Das, head of the Centre for WTO Studies, a government think tank for international trade and a part of the Indian delegation to MC11 said. "On the other hand, no other country apart from us is talking of a permanent solution as of now, no one", Das added.

Agri headache

However, the governments decision to move away from a combative position on agriculture may be the result of the fact that India is yet to suitably create alliances with other nations on the issue,  Case in point, Deepak had earlier pointed out that the developed world has opposed the country’s  stand on this as usual but the services-importing nations of the African bloc have also resisted it.

Last month, the WTO had broken conventional practice to call a two-day mini-ministerial meet in Morocco for agreeing on agenda details for the December conference.

First Published: Mon, November 27 2017. 16:18 IST