December 22, 2005, New Delhi, Press Release
The 6th WTO Ministerial conference held recently at Hong Kong did not break down. This is in itself is a success. A second failure after the Cancun fiasco would have been really disastrous for the multilateral trading system, and affected the developing world, including India, quite adversely.
This was the common feeling expressed by a group of parliamentarians cutting across different political parties at a meeting organized here on December 21st evening. These MPs assembled under the banner of the “Parliamentarians Forum on Economic Policy Issues (PAR-FORE)”.
The forum was constituted at the initiative of CUTS International, a leading research and advocacy group, to facilitate better understanding of complex issues among the lawmakers. The presentation on the outcome of the Hong Kong meeting (http://www.cuts-international.org/documents/Par-fore-ppt.ppt) was presented by CUTS Secretary General, Pradeep S Mehta and Policy Analyst, Pranav Kumar.
The parliamentarians were of the opinion that there has been a sea change in the negotiating skills of India and other developing countries in comparison to the Uruguay Round. We are now better organised than the previous rounds. As the negotiations are getting complex we are increasingly improving our preparedness towards negotiations. Now, there is a greater interest both inside and outside the Parliament on trade related issues.
“India through its liberalization is moving forward. Our average tariffs came down to 20 percent. However, it is feared that this autonomous liberalization will weaken our negotiating position in the WTO”, observed Mr. Yashwant Sinha, former External Affairs Minister and a Rajya Sabha member. Mr. Manoj Bhattacharya another Rajya Sabha member expressed similar fears.
Minister of State for Planning and a PAR-FORE member, Mr M. V. Rajasekharan, expressed concerns on the plight of tea and coffee sector, being hit by global competition.
Speaking at the Forum, former Maharashtra Governor and an independent Rajya Sabha M.P. Dr. P. C. Alexander expressed his fears that duty and quota free market access to LDCs is a cause of concern for us as well. Mr. Sinha echoed similar concerns, particularly in case of textiles & clothing trade from Bangladesh. “LDCs deserve sympathy but at the same time they are posing difficulties for us”, said Mr. Sinha.
“The success of Hong Kong Ministerial provides an opportunity to make the final jump towards the successful conclusion of the Doha Round”, said Mr. Sharad Joshi, a Rajya Sabha M.P. and President of the Shetkari Sangathan. Our civil servants are better prepared, but we need to do our homework very carefully, particularly in tariff negotiations. They have to be very vigilant because modalities are to be negotiated in the coming months. “The devil is in the details”, observed the meeting.
This was the second PAR-FORE meeting since its formal launch early this month. Other Members who participated in the meeting included Suresh Prabhu, Saifuddin Soz and E. M. Sudarshana Natchiappan.
Many members felt that the Forum should also discuss international environment agreements, of which there is scarce understanding among parliamentarians and policy makers. “In future Kyoto Protocol will become another Uruguay Round, and we will be caught unaware”, said Prabhu. As another former environment minister, Soz seconded the proposal.
In response to the increasing complexity of international negotiations, Mehta said that we need specialists in several areas of international dimensions, such as trade, energy, security, environment etc, and that we cannot afford to continue with transferrable generalists as experts. Members felt that this issue also needs to be addressed as a part of our governance reforms agenda.
In conclusion, the Members elected Dr. P. C. Alexander as the Chairman of this Forum. Members also opined that we need for higher participation of parliamentarians and felt that one hour meetings of PAR-FORE can be organized at the Parliament Library over lunch in future, which would discuss single issues. The future meetings will be held during the budget session, sometime in February. These would include the budget and other economic and environmental issues.