India reiterates stance on agriculture at pre-WTO meeting

PARIS, France, 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.