18 December 2015 06:50:03 IST

WTO’s first ministerial draft reflects huge differences between members

Nairobi meet concludes today, but consensus still elusive

The World Trade Organisation’s first draft ministerial declaration for the ongoing ministerial meet in Nairobi circulated on Thursday is full of brackets, an indication of a lack of consensus, even as the meet moves towards its scheduled closure on Friday.

All important issues, including a decision on the future of the ongoing Doha Round, doing away with export subsidies, allowing special safeguard measures for developing countries, achieving reduction in domestic support and commitments favouring LDCs (least developed countries) are in bracketed texts.

The intention to introduce new issues in the WTO, vehemently opposed by India as it opens the door to issues such as investment, competition policy and environment goods, has also been put in brackets.

Read: India fights ‘unfavourable’ WTO drafts in Nairobi

“While it is natural for the first draft to have a number of brackets, positions held by developed and developing countries on most of these issues are so far apart, that reconciliation in one day seems very difficult,” a government official told BusinessLine .

Indian demand ignored India is even more disappointed with the draft on agriculture circulated by the ministerial facilitator for agriculture on Thursday as its demand for an agreement on a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) to protect poor farmers against import surges and a work programme for arriving at a permanent solution for calculating food procurement subsidies to make them non-actionable were ignored.

On the other hand, in the area of export competition pushed by a number of developed and agriculture goods exporting countries, the draft is more definite and talks about specific commitments on elimination of subsidies.

Despite India demanding specific commitments on the SSM, the text just talks about work on the SSM for developing countries being pursued at the WTO without any mention of the structure and by when it would be delivered.

Moreover, the text mentions pursuing work on SSMs in the context of agricultural market access which could make it difficult for developing countries to make use of it in the absence of additional lowering of tariffs on farm items.

“The text links SSMs to agricultural market access which could mean that it would be available only as part of larger discussions on market access which aims to further lower agricultural tariffs. India, as part of G-33, was looking at an SSM independent of anything on the lines of the special safeguards that several developed countries have,” Ranja Sengupta of Third World Network told BusinessLine .

New Delhi is opposing both the drafts and will give its own draft to correct the lapses.

As per the draft, developed members shall eliminate their remaining scheduled export subsidy entitlements by the end of 2020.

Developing members, on the other hand, shall eliminate their export subsidy entitlements by reducing to zero their scheduled export subsidy budgetary outlay and quantity commitment levels in equal annual instalments by the end of 2023.

What would affect India is a particular provision in the draft that lays down that developing countries will have to do away with the transport and marketing subsidies, currently allowed to them, by 2028. India has been lobbying for a longer timeframe for its dismantling.

India’s refusal to accept restrictions on the functioning of its agriculture state trading enterprises has been respected with the draft not putting any mandatory disciplines in place.

But there are other provisions for state trading enterprises that India says it does not have a mandate to accept.