The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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There has been some progress towards making the fifth ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Cancun in September a success. India continues to argue that four Singapore issues of trade facilitation, government procurement, investment and competition policy should not be part of the Doha development agenda’s negotiating mandate. Following the fourth ministerial in Doha in 2001, a decision on their inclusion was postponed till Cancun. Despite India’s opposition, there is a possibility that Singapore issues will be unbundled and developing country resistance to their inclusion weaken, thanks to pressure exerted by developed countries. No doubt the commerce ministry is prepared for the eventuality of some Singapore issues entering negotiations, in which case, the deadline of January 2005 for DDA’s completion looks suspect.

The present impasse was primarily due to patents and agriculture. In developing countries, there is the fear that product patents for pharmaceuticals will push up drug prices and hamper access to public health. In an emergency, a country can override rights of patent holders and demand that compulsory licences to manufacture be executed in favour of domestic manufacturers. This is possible if domestic manufacturing capacity exists. But what happens to countries in Africa that do not have a domestic pharmaceutical industry' They should be allowed to import patented drugs from other countries, with provisions to ensure these drugs are not re-exported.

The trade related intellectual property rights council was supposed to arrive at such a solution by December 1992. This deadline was missed because of American opposition. There was an impasse because it was not clear whether this option would only be available to the 49 least developing countries or to other developing countries also. Would imports from India, South Africa, Brazil and China be permitted' Would this safeguard only be applicable to diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS or would it cover other diseases' There are now signs that the United States of America has weakened its opposition. This leaves agriculture. The present agriculture agreement covers export subsidies, domestic support to agriculture and market access (tariffs). The European Union is reluctant to liberalize its agricultural policy. Indications are that the EU will not liberalize agriculture before 2013. There is also resistance in developing countries like India to liberalize agriculture. For example, India wants special safeguards to protect the country against sudden import surges and wants certain special products to be exempted from liberalization commitments. The modalities for agricultural negotiations were supposed to be finalized by March 2003. That deadline was missed, and so far, there are no signs that Cancun will be especially successful. Also Cancun is a midterm meeting, and no member would like to publicly acknowledge that Cancun is a failure, even it does not deliver much.

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