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July 28, 1998


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New panels will look into WTO, TRIPS, patents issues, Hegde assures Rajya Sabha

Commerce Minister Ramakrishna Hegde has said that India would be able to safeguard its interests in the World Trade Organisation and would try to mobilise support of the other members, especially the developing countries, in its favour.

Dispelling fears of Opposition members in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, Hegde maintained that it was advantageous for the country to be a member of the WTO. Each member-country has one vote and we can certainly mobilise the developing countries to espouse our cause, he pointed out.

The commerce minister said the department of industrial development has set up an inter-ministerial committee and several sub-groups to look into various aspects of the agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights by the WTO.

The department has also constituted an expert group headed by Dr Raja Ramanna, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, to consider and advise on the related issues.

It is also our intention to prepare papers on imbalances in the TRIPS agreement of WTO which we will place before General Council for consideration, Hegde said.

To a member's contention that there should have been a discussion in the House before the country signed the WTO agreement, the minister said since the then government neither had time nor the inclination to have a general discussion on the issue, the chapter cannot be reopened now after three years. However some amount of consensus does exist in India about how we should approach the controversial matters in the WTO, he added.

Members cutting across party lines in the Rajya Sabha urged the government not to succumb to the pressures of the multinationals for amending the patent laws and also ignore the deadline set by the WTO for the same.

Participating in a short duration discussion, former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee (Congress) said, ''We have to be careful about the multilateral agreement on investment and confine it within the WTO framework. The trading partners should also not be given the right to dictate about a particular sector which has to be opened by us.''

Mukherjee said while the developed nations have demolished tarrif and non-tarrif barriers, they wanted to impose their terms on us. He said India must strive to remove protectionism and the government should make it very clear what steps it wanted to take for amending the patent laws.

Mahesh Chandra Sharma (BJP) said the country faced a big challenge in the wake of the WTO setting a deadline for April 19, 1999 for making changes in the patent laws. He said the only solution was either to succumb to the dictates or build up a consensus over it inside Parliament.

He said it was unfortunate that there had been no discussion in the House before the WTO agreement was signed.

Sharma urged the government to set up a separate ministry for taking all decisions on international trade and to evolve a composite machinery to monitor the progress. He also asked the government not to bow to the unilateral provisions of the WTO.

Ashok Mitra (CPI-M) said, ''It was unfortunate that we are compelled to amend our own laws to provide advantage to the multinational corporations. He said the deadline of the WTO was not as important as the sovereignty of our nation.

J Chittranjan (CPI) said the treaty with the WTO was weighed more in favour of the developed countries and by signing it ''we have surrendered our sovereign rights to some extent.'' He said in case of patent laws the government should bring a legislation to be discussed in Parliament.

Chittranjan further said there was no question of backing out from the WTO, but pressure can be inserted from within also.


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