Anand Sharma Rules Out Freezing of the Custom Duties at the Current Levels
India Lends its Voice to Retain Development Agenda at WTO Ministerial

“Friends of development” Bat for Interests of LDCS Shri Anand Sharma, Commerce, Industry and Textiles Minister, clearly spelt out India’s position on some of the new ideas that have been proposed in the current WTO round as a possible way forward. Ruling out any freezing of the custom duties at the current levels (Tariff standstill) he stated that this amounted to the developing countries ceding their policy space and being denied any recognition for their autonomous liberalization. Besides unhinging the negotiated formula on tariff reductions it would force the developing countries to take on commitments going much beyond what was envisaged for at the end of the Doha Round. Similarly on the issue of export restrictions on agricultural products, any dilution of the flexibilities available under the WTO regime for imposing export restrictions and taxes was unacceptable. It was imperative that the WTO while taking up all manner of the new challenges does not forget the traditional challenge of development, said the Minister. Shri Sharma currently in Geneva for the 8th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, was addressing the Group of 20 developing countries (chaired by Brazil).

Mr Sharma recalled the role G20 has played in the WTO negotiations. Sh. Sharma called for continued solidarity and reinvigorated engagement so that the current impasse in the Doha negotiations are broken and the attempts to replace the development centric agenda are thwarted. He cautioned against the possibility of losing the progress and the balance achieved so painstakingly over the last decade, particularly on the reforms of the agricultural trading system. He urged the global community to not allow this opportunity to slip away or allow a dilution of the Doha mandate.

Continuing his intensive consultations, both with Developing and Developed countries, to evolve a common position on the way forward on the Doha Development Agenda the Minister stated that India views WTO as an institution which ensures a level playing field in global trade flows and creates a paradigm of equitable and inclusive growth. While speaking at the meeting of the G33 countries( a coalition of agricultural economies, coordinated by Indonesia) he urged for ushering in much delayed changes in the current agricultural trading regime which negatively impact the livelihood concerns of billions of subsistence farmers in the developing world.

The ministers coordinated their positions ahead of the plenary meet on the important aspects of agricultural trade, including the large trade distorting subsidies doled out by the developed countries, and agreed on preserving the centrality of development as the core agenda. While unequivocally expressing India’s desire to bring this Round to a balanced conclusion, Sh. Sharma underlined the need to keep the negotiating process transparent and inclusive. He also articulated India’s strong commitment to the issues affecting the Least Developed countries, and the small and vulnerable economies, that have hitherto remained marginalized from the global trading regime. Minister Sharma was of the view that the smaller and poorer nations cannot be left behind and thus it was incumbent upon all member states to accord highest priority to the concerns of the Least Developed countries.

Minister Sharma recalled that India has already shown the way with its unilateral grant of duty free market access to a large number of products from the least developed countries as early as in 2008. He urged the WTO members, particularly the developed ones, to follow suit and redeem the promise made to the poorest members of the global community six years ago at Hong Kong. This obligation needs to be fulfilled without any further delay he added.

Addressing the G 33 group of Ministers, , he lauded the role of the G 33 in protecting the development dimension of the Round, through its efforts to obtain satisfactory outcomes on certain critical elements of Agriculture negotiations that provide for Special and Differential treatment for the developing countries. He observed that these special and differential provisions balance out the commercial interests of the developed countries, and are essential to protect the livelihood interests of the small and marginal farmers in the developing world for whom agriculture is not an issue of trade but of livelihood and existence.

Today, Minister Sharma addressed a gathering of over 100 country delegates of the G90 developing countries and Brazil, China , India and South Africa. The unique grouping of over 100 countries called the “Friends of development” reaffirmed their commitment to the centrality of development in Doha round and the need to keep negotiations transparent and inclusive. Minister Sharma mentioned that “ An overwhelming majority of WTO membership present in this meeting have sent out a message with clarity to take forward the Doha development agenda without deviating or diluting the core of the round” . He expressed concern that “new approaches” were being suggested, risking the multilateral tradition of WTO. He said that the round must ensure “ a just and equitable regime which corrects the distortions of history”.

Sh. Sharma is scheduled to address the plenary of the WTO Ministerial Conference today.

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September 2021