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Nath wins farm battle

Hong Kong, Dec. 17: India has succeeded in securing the interests of its farm sector on the penultimate day of the WTO negotiations, but is looking for more concessions in the industrial and services sectors.

Commerce minister Kamal Nath, who has gone through several tough rounds of green room negotiations with the US and EU, said the first draft prepared by WTO director general Pascal Lamy today represented a step forward.

He said it enabled India to fully protect the interest of its farmers but there were “some concerns over the reduction of industrial tariffs and liberalisation of services, which will be addressed during the next 20 hours”.

Nath said “the determination and solidarity of the developing countries has ensured that there is no real erosion in the development agenda. We have to see that the development aspect is preserved till the end of the round.”

The draft permits the developing countries to ban the import of agricultural goods to protect the livelihood of their farmers and ensure food security.

It gives developing countries the flexibility to choose the appropriate number of products that they want to fully protect. India has already drawn up a list of 65 to 70 products for this category.

The draft also gives the developing countries the right to have recourse to “special safeguard mechanisms” to prevent cheap imports of agricultural goods.

Nath said there were some problems in the area of non-agricultural market access (NAMA). The modalities linked to the Swiss formula for reducing industrial tariffs also needed to be looked into.

Ficci secretary-general Amit Mitra also expressed some reservations on the Swiss formula

On the positive side, the principle of less than full reciprocity for developing countries has been incorporated in the draft.

The demand of the developing countries for flexibility to protect their small and medium enterprises as well as infant industries has been accepted but it has not been included as stand-alone clause in the draft. The G-20 has now asked Lamy to ensure this aspect.

G-20 nations have also stated at the latest meeting that the EU must agree to an end date to eliminate export subsidy to its farmers.

The developing and least developed countries will mount further pressure to push 2010 as the end-date at subsequent meetings tomorrow. The developing countries are also seeking simple linear cuts on agricultural tariffs of advanced countries.

Nath said he was confident that a consensus over a deal for the LDCs would be reached. “The package may not be all that they are seeking but it is expected to be a satisfactory one,” he added.

The minister said the Hong Kong ministerial had given direction to the trade talks and would impart the momentum required to conclude the Doha round next year.

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