The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shaky steps to Hong Kong pulpit

Hong Kong, Dec. 12: Commerce minister Kamal Nath today pricked the balloon of expectations soaring over Hong Kong, saying India would not plunge headlong into the trade agreement that has eluded the world for long.

Talking to reporters after meetings with European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson and WTO director-general Pascal Lamy, Nath said he had driven home the message that the developed countries would have to lower tariffs and remove non-tariff barriers on textiles and leather products if an agreement is to be reached.

He pointed out that the imposition of anti-dumping duty on Indian textiles and leather goods was a big obstacle to the country’s exports. As soon as a Western country imposes the levy, export margins on these products are squeezed.

In agriculture, he reiterated that India would like the advanced countries to set a specific date for eliminating export subsidies and reducing domestic support to farmers. Imports of subsidised farm goods from the West will also not be allowed. Instead, India will seek to export more.

Nath even said India was ready to take the blame of any failure if its concerns on agriculture were not addressed. "No WTO process can isolate India. The talks cannot be completed without us on board. We are ready to take the blame if our concerns are not addressed. We are not here to make statement of good intentions. There could be no agreement in dribbles," he added.

Asked if the European Union must make improved offers in agriculture, Nath said the trade bloc must move forward as the July framework agreement (of 2004) clearly mentions that export subsidies must be eliminated. "If they have internal problems, it is their problem. We are not here to solve their problems," he added.

The minister said there are 65 to 70 agricultural products considered “special’’ to the livelihood of its farmers. Cheap imports could not be allowed in these items.

In a strong rear-guard action, the minister held meetings with the group of 20 countries comprising India, China, Brazil, South Africa and Argentina to consolidate the strategy of the developing countries against those from the West. The flurry of parleys included talks with Brazilian trade minister Celso Amin and Pakistan commerce minister Humuyan Akhtar.

Nath admitted the advanced countries were trying to split the developing nations to get an edge in the talks. However, he was confident the strategy will not work.

Tonight, the minister said he would meet the “five interested parties’’ comprising the US, Australia, Brazil, the European Commission and India. Striking a more conciliatory note, he said it was important for multilateral trade that the negotiations at the Hong Kong meeting make some progress. “But the question is whether the progress is in inches, in steps or a leap forward,” he said.

Asserting India’s strength as a pivot in the G 20 and G 33 groups, Nath said the WTO talks cannot move forward without taking India on board.

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