July 12, 2004, Ranvir Nayar, Indo-Asian News Service
(IANS): India has maintained its tough stance
on not sacrificing the livelihood of its 600 million
farmers at discussions here to kick-start negotiations
at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, who was here to
take part in a pre-WTO discussion hosted by Brazil,
said there had not been any change in India's position
on WTO issues despite a change of government in Delhi.
Trade representatives from Australia, the European
Union and the US also attended the discussions.
Kamal Nath said India would continue to defend the
interests of its small and marginal farmers who depend
on agriculture for their livelihood.
"This is not about commercial agriculture and
not about profits, but about the livelihood of our farmers,"
Nath told IANS.
Analysts here said India's position on farming negotiations
may have only hardened since the Congress-led United
Progressive Alliance government has assumed power. They
pointed out it had won mainly on the rural vote and
the government could not afford to be seen as sacrificing
the interests of its main constituency barely two months
after coming to power.
Kamal Nath later met French Trade Minister Francois
Loos and held discussions on bilateral trade and the
way to boost relations. He left for the Mauritian capital
of Port Louis to take part in the G-20 group meeting
on WTO Monday-Tuesday.
The five countries that attended the Paris conclave
constitute the agriculture working group that has been
given a tough mandate by WTO secretary general Supachai
Panitchpakdi for breaking the deadlock over agriculture
to take the negotiations ahead.
The last ministerial conference of WTO members collapsed
in Cancun last year following the European Union's refusal
to end its export subsidies and to open the market for
imports from the developing countries.
Since then, the leading players of the WTO, including
India, have been trying to get the negotiations going.
The Paris discussions were part of this effort.
However, though this is the third time that the five
countries are meeting, there does not seem to have been
much progress, with each of the five ministers contenting
themselves in referring to the Paris meeting as "useful".
European Union trade commissioner Pascal Lamy hinted
at the level of differences between the members of the
group, saying much work remained ahead if there was
to be any agreement to revive the Doha negotiations.
US trade representative Robert B. Zoellick said though
there were convergences and potentialities for convergence,
the challenge for the group remained immense. "However,
the fact that we decided to meet itself proves our commitment
to find a resolution to these issues," he said.
Brazilian Trade Minister Luis Fernando Furlan, who
hosted the meeting, said the Paris meeting was not the
final, but only part of a process. He, however, skipped
a question on whether the group would be able to meet
the deadline of reaching an agreement before the end
of July in order to have a proposal at the Geneva gathering
of WTO trade ministers.