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India has nothing to show from Cancun

Sidhartha in Cancun | September 16, 2003 12:29 IST

As the events leading to the collapse of the World Trade Organisation talks at Cancun unfolded, India's fortunes swung dramatically.

But, its attempts to extract some concessions from rich countries were thwarted when Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez, the chairman of the ministerial, decided to pull the plug on the talks.

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The WTO Secretariat released a "disaster" of a draft ministerial text on Saturday afternoon, which failed to reflect any of India's proposals or concerns.

Despite the best efforts of India and 69 other countries, including China and Malaysia, to stall any progress on the Singapore issues, the draft proposed the start of talks on two of the four contentious issues - trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement – while linking negotiations on investment to fixing modalities on agriculture and non-agriculture market access.

The draft also sought major concessions from India and other developing countries with regard to market access in agriculture by proposing steep tariff reductions.

In the final analysis, India's performance at Cancun was like its cricket team's at a World Cup cricket match. India started as the underdog, picked up steam midway and was close to victory, when it saw its chances washed out due to factors beyond its control.

After the draft was released on Saturday afternoon, the group of 21 developing countries (popularly known as the G-21) huddled together. After two hours of consultations, the G-21 was ready with a counter strategy by 6 pm on Saturday.

It was at this stage, El Salvador, one of the members of the alliance, decided to part ways.

When all this was happening, some least developed countries and developing countries were also trying to cobble together a strategy on the Singapore issues.

At around 7 pm on Saturday, Commerce and Industry Minister Arun Jaitley met Derbez, but found his reaction unfavorable, officials belonging to the Indian delegation said. Within a few minutes, the plenary session started discussing the draft ministerial text.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin fired the first salvo, with Jaitley raising the pitch in favour of developing countries' demands after EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy had spoken. When the session was broke for dinner, it was clear that the developing countries were opposed to the draft.

Before trade ministers retired to the 'Green Room' to iron out differences at 11 pm, WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi met some key ministers and sought their support on the document prepared by the trade body on the basis of  "extensive consultations" between the five facilitators and the various delegations.

Despite opposition from some members, including India, the WTO decided to go ahead with the 'Green Room' process, which could have representatives from only 34 of the 148 member countries.

When the session ended at midnight, it was followed by meetings with key members like the US, EU, India, Brazil, South Africa, Malaysia and China.

At the meeting, which lasted till 3 am, the developing countries again opposed the inclusion of the Singapore issues on the negotiating agenda as also the draft on agriculture.

The 'Green Room' meeting resumed at 8.30 am on Sunday morning. During talks, the developing countries held their ground, and the EU took a flexible approach to its demands on the Singapore issues.  The EU first decided to unbundle the issues, then dropped investment from the agenda and decided to bury the issue. Pressure from the US also saw the EU drop its demands on an agreement on competition policy as well.

Meanwhile, the WTO was busy drafting a compromise deal on agriculture that would be acceptable to developing countries, like India and Brazil.

Around this time, negotiations on transparency in government procurement were proposed, but some countries, like Malaysia, opposed it saying they were more comfortable with talks on trade facilitation. Lamy almost agreed to this, but wanted the concurrence of EU constituents before making the final offer.

When the meeting resumed after lunch on Sunday, the African Union, the least developed countries group and the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries, numbering nearly 80, rejected demands for inclusion of any of the four issues, forcing chairman Derbez to call off the Cancun ministerial at around 4 pm.

Indian negotiators said had the meeting continued, developing countries would not only have managed to get a better deal on agriculture but also succeeded in keeping the Singapore issues out of the agenda.

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