“The suspension of Doha Round negotiations in July this year has brought into focus not only the substantive issues which are the subject of discord, but also institutionalised asymmetries which continue to pervade WTO after its emergence from GATT. While its professed objective is greater openness in all aspects of trade; in practice, this objective is observed in a highly selective manner that reflects the predilections and concerns of developed countries,” said Mr. S. N. Menon, Former Commerce Secretary of India. He was speaking at a review meeting of the project titled “WTO Doha Round and South Asia: Linking Civil Society with Trade Negotiations” which was held in New Delhi on 21-22 December.
CUTS International, a non-governmental research, advocacy and networking organisation is implementing this project in five South Asian countries in partnership with research institutions and civil society organisations. It is supported by Oxfam Novib, The Netherlands. More than 20 researchers, government officials and representatives from civil society organisations and business associations reviewed the research results, which are to provide negotiating inputs to South Asian governments during the Doha Round of negotiations. “Institutional development on trade policy-making through civil society’s involvement, particularly to overcome supply-side constraints and face challenges of systemic issues, is the need of the hour,” Mr. Menon added.
Speaking at the closing, India’s Commerce Secretary Mr. G. K. Pillai said: “It is crucial for countries like India that trade-distorting domestic subsidies in the rich world are reduced. We are not calling for complete elimination of all agricultural subsidies as that’s not the Doha mandate but substantial reduction. Development dimension of trade-distorting subsidies is strong.” The G-20 group of developing countries has asked US to reduce its trade-distorting domestic subsidies from the current level of US$ 20 billion to US$ 12 billion. He said that there are such five or six development dimensions, which are key for the Doha Round of negotiations to proceed towards its conclusion. “Coming four months are very crucial and civil society should play a more vigilant role to see to it that development dimensions of the Doha Round are achieved,” he added.
CUTS International’s project is focusing on five key issues of the Doha Round of negotiations. The next phase of the project will look into specific aspects and concerns of domestic preparedness in South Asian countries in order get more benefits from trade liberalisation. In this context, Mr. Pillai said, “Strong regulatory system is required to get benefits from services liberalisation. Such a system can have some non-tariff type measures to have checks and balances.”
Following its suspension in July this year, in November there was soft resumption of the Doha Round of negotiations. Technical discussions are taking place in Geneva. However, it is not yet clear when the trade talks will be taken forward to the political level.