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Big blow to trade talks

New Delhi, April 22: The WTO mini-ministerial, scheduled to be held later this month to break the impasse on farm and industrial tariff negotiations, has been called off and is now likely to be held in June.

This rules out any possibility of meeting the April 30 deadline set at the Hong Kong WTO ministerial in December for working out the modalities to complete the Doha round of trade talks by the end of this year.

A fresh date for the meeting has not been indicated. However, senior officials expect the ministerial to be held in June. The Doha round of talks started in 2001 and has already missed the December 2005 deadline for completion.

Sharp differences between developed and developing countries on the phasing out of farm subsidies and lowering of industrial tariffs for improved market access were the reasons behind the talks being called off.

Senior officials will, however, meet to take stock of the situation and chart a future course.

WTO director-general Pascal Lamy, who had visited New Delhi early this month, had held a hectic round of talks with commerce minister Kamal Nath in an attempt to make the April 30 deadline possible.

Nath had told Lamy that India would not rush into an agreement and compromise its interests merely to meet the deadlines set for the multilateral trade negotiations.

Lamy had said, “We are approaching the moment of truth in the next few days. Developed countries like the EU and US will have to reduce subsidies in agriculture and farm tariffs should come down too. Developing countries like India, Brazil and South Africa will also have to reduce their industrial tariffs.

Lamy had stated that India will have to make its contribution on tariff reduction and the Hong Kong agreement provided enough policy space. He had said there a general council meeting would be held on April 18 in Geneva and if there is forward movement a ministerial meeting could follow.

However, with both the developed and developing countries sticking to their known stands there was no progress on the issue.

Kamal Nath had taken the stand that “while timelines or deadlines are important, this cannot be at the cost of the development content of the Doha round which was launched with the aim of reducing global trade imbalances so that developing countries could benefit.”

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