Minister of commerce and industry Kamal Nath has welcomed the revised draft modalities texts on Agriculture and NAMA, which had been brought out in Geneva on 8 February. He commended the chairs of the two negotiating groups for their efforts in seeking convergence and for putting together the complicated texts.
However, Nath clarified that a final view on the two texts would be possible only after holding consultations with other ministries, domestic stakeholders, and India's partner countries in Geneva. This could take some more time.
Sharing his preliminary assessment of the two texts, with the media, Nath said that the agriculture text distils the progress made in negotiations between September 2007 and January 2008. While convergence has been achieved in some areas, the chair has also put out brand new text in some other unresolved areas and these would require detailed deliberations e.g. special products (SPs), special safeguard mechanism (SSM), special safeguards, tropical products, tariff simplification, etc. He said there still remained some other issues on which large divergences still existed, such as OTDS, market access in sensitive products, tariff capping etc.
''Significant and effective reduction of trade distorting subsidies of the developed countries is an issue on which there can be no compromise because they impact adversely upon the livelihood of millions of our poor farmersn Nath said.''
He added that ''Indian agriculture cannot be expected to carry the burden and most definitely not in a development round''.
The minister expressed satisfaction at the fact that the original G-20 proposal of a minimum 54 per cent cut in agricultural tariffs for developed countries and a maximum tariff cut of 36 per cent for developing countries was back on the table. ''India had always espoused the concept of two thirds proportionality between developed and developing countries in tariff reductions'' he added.
Striking a note of caution, Nath stated that a lot of work still remains to be done on special products (SPs). India has already indicated that one of its ''must-haves'' on SPs was a significant number of tariff lines, which did not have to take any tariff cuts. Also, logic demands that the cuts for other SPs had to be more favourable than for sensitive products.
''The livelihood of Indian farmers and the food security of the nation is of paramount importance and must be protected at all costs,'' he reiterated.
On the special safeguard mechanism, Nath felt that some of the proposals in the text were likely to render the SSM unworkable and detract from its utility. The SSM was a defensive instrument to safeguard livelihood issues: ''How can a weak instrument provide the required protection?'' he asked. Volume and price triggers have to be sensitive and independent of each other. This has to be recognized. India has always maintained that a simple, easy-to-use SSM was in the best interests of all.
He noted that though the revised NAMA text continues with the earlier proposals on Swiss coefficients, it reflects that there are other points of view held by many countries. However he said he was surprise at the removal of the numbers on the Para 8 flexibilities for developing countries, which have been on the table since the Framework of July 2004.
He stated that these numbers were the very least that the developing countries, including India, needed in order to protect their infant industries, small-scale industries, and vulnerable sectors. ''We need greater flexibilities'' he added. The chair should not have withdrawn the numbers from the text and left room for ambiguity to creep in.
The minister expressed the hope that the chair of the rules negotiating group would take a cue from the NAMA chair and now come out with a revised text, which truly reflects the views of the membership rather than representing just the views of one country, as in the case of the anti-dumping proposals.
He stated that the text on fisheries subsidies has to be radically revised in order to take into account the actual conditions in which small, artisanal fisheries in the developing world have to operate. ''This is an issue that critically impinges upon the livelihood of millions of poor fisher folk in India and other countries. It cannot be left unaddressed,'' he added.
Sounding an optimistic noteNath said that the revised texts can form the basis for constructive engagement and negotiation in the coming weeks and a lot of hard work still lies ahead. He said that there are around 170 ''square brackets'' in the agriculture text alone, For instance, which have to be reduced through intensive negotiations to a small and manageable number.
''There are admittedly a number of areas where there are strong differences of opinion. Convergence in these areas will have to be incrementally achieved'' he said. It is vitally important to bear in mind the overarching development mandate of the round.
If India's developed country trading partners recognize this, he said, it would hasten the process of removing the ''square brackets'' and reaching convergence. India is committed to concluding the Doha Round quickly. ''Now is the time for progress in other areas of interest to the WTO membership, viz. Rules and Services. There must be simultaneous progress on all fronts if we are to clinch a deal by end 2008'' he concluded.