The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt hands Nath charter for WTO
- Focus on farmers in last-ditch effort

New Delhi, Dec. 8: The cabinet committee on WTO today gave commerce minister Kamal Nath the mandate to spearhead the trade negotiations at the ministerial meeting in Hong Kong next week to protect the interest of 650 million Indian farmers.

The committee, which was chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, finalised the broad contours of the country’s negotiating strategy for the WTO talks beginning December 13.

The delegation to the five-day ministerial will focus on protecting the food and livelihood security of the country’s farmers and making the advanced countries scale down the huge subsidies to their farmers.

Nath, who is leaving for Kuala Lumpur tonight, apprised the cabinet on the state of negotiations and the fact that the meeting may not yield an agreement on full modalities in agriculture, non-agriculture market access and services. A package for least developed countries and developing countries could be agreed on.

“The Doha round is not only about agriculture but also about goods and services ' areas where our negotiations can progress,” Nath said after the cabinet committee meeting.

The Indian stand is that agriculture has remained the most structurally flawed part of global trade and WTO. India has decided to provide market access to least developed countries in Africa and is currently working out the tariff details, which would be useful for them.

Nath will be accompanied by officials from the ministries of commerce, external affairs, textiles and finance. Representatives of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry and Assocham will also head for Hong Kong.

Nath has already said in Parliament that the country would not compromise on the interest of its farmers. Nath has said, “If Hong Kong has to end without an agreement, so be it.”

He said the country will not compromise whatever it may get in goods or services for the sake of its 650 million farmers.

Talks have also been held with the Left parties on the strategy to be adopted at Hong Kong.

The WTO ministerial conferences are decision-making platforms of the multilateral trade body. Five such conferences have been held in the past with the last three being held at Seattle, Doha and Cancun. The talks at Seattle in 1999 and Cancun in 2001 had collapsed over subsidies in the farm sector and expectations have now been scaled down for Hong Kong. The Doha round had salvaged the talks and brought development to the forefront.

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