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Harbinson wedge in Cancun talks

New Delhi, July 24: Trade negotiations at the Cancun ministerial meeting in September will be vertically split over the controversial Harbinson text that covers issues relating to agriculture as developing countries feel it will badly compromise their interests.

The Harbinson text — which has been formulated by Stuart Harbinson, chairman of WTO’s council of agriculture (CAP) — provides for a reduction in tariff lines that developing countries like India find objectionable.

India and the other developing countries plan to scuttle all discussion on the Harbinson text and will instead press for implementation of the softer tariff reduction schedule spelt out under the Uruguay Round.

The Harbinson formula enjoins developing countries to commit to sharper tariff reductions on agro products than the Uruguay Round. India and other countries wanted a development box under the agreement on agriculture to address their livelihood and food security concerns.

“Countries like the European Union, the US and the Cairns groupe have opposed such an idea and are also against the concept of special products given to the developing countries,” said R Gopalan, joint secretary, department of commerce at a seminar on WTO negotiations in agriculture organised by the Federation Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).

“The developed countries have however indicated that they could accept only 20 agriculture tariff lines, provided the Harbinson approach to tariff reduction is accepted,” he added.

However, India and other 75 members countries want to follow the Uruguay round formula of average tariff reduction for agricultural commodities. Gopalan said India has around 692 tariff lines under agriculture. “If we go by the US approach, only 2 per cent of our tariff lines would qualify as special products,” he said.

Speaking on the occassion, Gokul Patnaik, member of Ficci’s taskforce on agriculture, cautioned that the basic flaw in the Harbinson text is that it does not define subsidies well.

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