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Arrives at the WTO
only real loser in Doha was India, writes Guy de Jonquieres in an
editorial comment in the Financial Times (November, 2001). "It
achieved no obvious gains except for the dubious pleasure of delaying the
close of the meeting."
you were at the summit and heard the frequent assertions in the corridors
and the pressroom that India was hell bent to bring down the launch of the
new round, you would likely believe the harsh assessment by de Jonquieres.
But did India truly fair so poorly?
first the outcome of the summit. I have consistently argued (ET, August
25, 2001) that the launch of a new round with a minimalist agenda that
focuses on trade liberalisation is in India’s own best interest. The
Doha agenda readily satisfies this criterion.
It calls for negotiations in four areas: trade liberalisation,
trade and environment, WTO rules in certain areas and the Dispute
Settlement Understanding (DSU). The mandate on trade and environment and
WTO rules is truly narrow and DSU negotiations are a part of the Uruguay
Round built-in agenda. This leaves trade liberalisation as the main
negotiating item on the agenda.
Doha agenda calls for trade liberalisation in all sectors: industry,
agriculture and services. Given the urgent need to jump-start India’s
trade reform, expected benefits to its farmers from increased access to
the European market and the need to eliminate tariff peaks in developed
countries in products such as textiles and clothing, footwear and
fisheries, India stands to benefit big from the proposed liberalisation
the first time, the Doha Declaration places trade and environment on the
negotiating agenda of the WTO. Most developing countries including India
had vehemently opposed this. Yet, in my judgement, the principal
negotiating item in this area promises to promote rather than hurt the
interest of developing countries. This
item requires the Members to negotiate on “the relationship between
existing WTO rules and specific trade obligations set out in multilateral
environmental agreements (MEAs).” Currently, this relationship remains
ill defined, giving the so-called “faceless bureaucrats” at the WTO a
free hand in not just interpreting but also formulating policy.
To safeguard against any protectionist outcome, the Declaration
explicitly states that the “negotiations shall not prejudice the WTO
rights of any Member that is not a party to the MEA in question”
third item on the Doha agenda requires clarification and improvement of
disciplines on anti-dumping, subsidies and countervailing duties,
fisheries subsidies, and the existing WTO provisions on regional trade
agreements. Virtually all subjects under this item had been either pushed
or backed by developing countries including India. Therefore, its
inclusion is prima facie consistent with their interests.
Doha Declaration represents a significant victory for India not just in
terms of the items it includes but also the items it excludes. Thus, India
has successfully kept the issue of labour standards off the agenda. Also
excluded from negotiations are the so-called Singapore issues spanning
over investment, competition policy, transparency in government
procurement, and trade facilitation.
A positive decision on the inclusion of these latter issues into
the negotiating agenda can only be made by a consensus among Members two
years from now. The benefits from multilateral agreements in these areas
having not been fully established, India had firmly opposed their
can also take pride in two other achievements at Doha. First, a separate
declaration on the TRIPs Agreement has clarified that Members have the
right to grant compulsory licence in the area of pharmaceuticals and that
they have the freedom to determine the ground upon which such licences are
granted. This and other provisions in the declaration remove several
ambiguities with respect to flexibilities available in the TRIPS
Agreement. Second, India got
concessions on a number of ‘implementation’ issues it had aggressively
pushed, first at Seattle and then at Doha. While the benefits from these
concessions are tiny in relation to the energy and negotiating capital
expended on them, they had been sought with zeal by India.
minister Maran is, thus, to be congratulated for the victory he has scored
in Doha. He was not only personally present at the summit from the
beginning to end but also had a presence there.
Though many developed country delegates, observers and journalists
were irked by his aggressive negotiating style, he gave effective
expression to the interests of India as well as many other developing
countries, which had difficulty in having their voices heard. Had he not
been true to his promise — “I will go down fighting” — and
personally negotiated non-stop for the last 36 hours of the summit with EU
and the US, the Doha agenda would have surely included the Singapore
issues as sought by the European Union.
are, nevertheless, lessons to be learned from the Doha experience. Ever
since the Uruguay Round, India has uniformly suffered from a negative
image among negotiators. To some degree, this is the outcome of an old
tactic whereby negotiators try to tilt the outcome in their favour by
painting a particularly vocal rival as “obstructionist”.
But India also bears some responsibility for making the task of
these negotiators easy. By opposing the very launch of the new round,
India made itself an easy target of criticism by them. It could have
instead taken the high road by supporting trade liberalisation agenda
unequivocally and positioning itself in favour of a round that focused on
this central function of the WTO.
negotiations, it is common for participants to demand more than what they
are willing to accept at the end. Yet, the initial position of India was
so extreme as to effectively rob it of any room to claim an unqualified
victory at the end of the day. Given the fact that Maran had publicly
opposed the launch of the round altogether, his critics can now point to
the newly agreed round as evidence of his defeat. They cannot be more
wrong; yet they will be technically right.
Economic Times, November 21 2001