|Commerce minister Kamal Nath (top) and EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson at the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (AP/PTI, AFP)
Hong Kong Dec. 13: Serious differences between commerce minister Kamal Nath and EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson came to the fore at the WTO conference today.
The Indian minister said he wanted to see the offer that the “EU has in its pocket, for reducing tariffs on non-agricultural goods, clearly placed on the table.’’
Nath said he wanted a simple figure on the percentage cut that EU was ready to make on industrial goods and India would reciprocate by going in for a two-thirds reduction of this amount. He was referring to the complicated Swiss formula that Mandelson is trying to push through.
Mandelson hit back saying the EU “does not have anything in its pocket as some minister has stated but an offer that is very much on the table.’’
The EU is worried over the formidable clout that the G-20 group of developing countries led by India, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and China have acquired in the WTO negotiations and is working assiduously to split them. It is also trying to offer a special package to the least developed countries (LDCs) so that they do not join the ranks of the G-20.
Mandelson announced that the EU was ready to offer up to 2 billion euros by 2010 as the aid for trade package for LDCs.
He said the EU was willing to allow exceptions on lowering tariffs in the agricultural and industrial sectors only for the least developed countries.
The EU has already extended duty-free access to the agricultural exports of LDCs and would like other countries to follow suit, he added.
Clearly Mandelson is continuing with the EU attempt to create a separate category of LDCs, which will that are distinct from developing countries like India and Brazil in order to weaken the G-20.
This would enable the advanced countries to dilute the benefits of the development agenda of the current round of WTO talks adopted at Doha that India has managed to push through with the G-20 members.
In what appeared to be his gameplan for weaning away Brazil from the G-20, Mendelson said the EU was willing to consider a separate offer from Brazil on reducing tariffs for industrial products if it clearly puts such an offer on the table.
Brazil has currently put up a joint offer with India and Argentina on market access for non-agricultural goods known as NAMA in WTO parlance.
Brazil has greater interest in opening up the market on non-agricultural goods than India as it is industrially more advanced. However, like India it considers agricultural sector more important and this is binding it as part of the G-20.
Brazilian trade minister Celso Amin, who along with Kamal Nath is playing a key role in formulating the G-20 strategy, made it quite clear today that Brazil stands solidly behind the developing countries.
US dig at China
The United States said on Tuesday that China is a serious, sometimes “blatant” violator of WTO promises, even as it pressed Beijing to help rescue contentious global trade talks in Hong Kong.
Tim Stratford, the assistant US trade representative in charge of dealing with China, said that the country’s record of implementing WTO rules was “mixed” since it joined in 2001.