At a standstill

  • 30/08/2003

The outcome of the fourth and final mini-ministerial before the Cancun conference in September was on predictable lines. No breakthrough was made on contentious issues regarding agricultural and non-agricultural products, investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation and, most importantly, development.

The meeting, held from July 28 to 30 in Montreal, Canada, was attended by 25 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Despite the lack of progress, the European Commission's (EC) commissioner for agriculture, rural development and fisheries, Franz Fischler, was optimistic. "For the first time, we have seen WTO members narrowing down their huge gaps,' he averred. Fischler, who is also the architect of the European Union's (EU) Common Agricultural Policy reform, however, added that there was no room for complacency and that weeks of hard work lay ahead.

On agriculture, the head of the Indian delegation to Montreal and Union minister for communication, information technology and disinvestment, Arun Shourie, reiterated the country's food and livelihood security concerns. He warned of a backlash if the pace of economic reforms was seen to be forced: "Stick to the (Doha) text and be cautious in moving forward.'

India succeeded in shaking off pressure on investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation by exploiting differences between the US and the EU. But the battle is far from over. Shourie also urged negotiators to focus on development issues that were commercially significant for developing countries.

The deliberations closely followed the release of the Draft Cancun Ministerial Text on July 18, 2003, which broadly sets out the agenda. Reacting to it, developing countries alleged that the text foresaw "concrete' decisions on issues important to developed nations, while merely calling on members to strengthen efforts on matters crucial for developing countries.

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