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Wed, Jul 23, 2008 - Page 10 News List

Indian minister’s absence hindering WTO progress

AFP , GENEVA

Ministers from around 35 key nations were to resume crucial trade talks in Geneva yesterday after a first day slammed as “totally useless” by Brazil, but diplomats said the absence of a key Indian minister was hindering progress.

The ministers are meeting on a round of negotiations aimed at breaking the deadlock to achieving a global trade deal.

However, Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath was notably absent because he was in New Delhi for a crucial vote of no-confidence in the coalition of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh scheduled later yesterday. The vote was triggered by a controversial nuclear deal with Washington.

Diplomats in Geneva said that until that vote was over, little progress could be made on the agricultural front since India is an important player.

“Basically Monday, Tuesday and possibly Wednesday would be more or less a waste of time since Nath isn’t here,” said one diplomat who declined to be named.

“If the Indian government were to lose the vote on Tuesday, any deal that is made by the Indian delegation would also hold no water. That’s the talk in the corridors,” the diplomat said.

Even on the day of the vote, the outcome was still uncertain.

Nath was not expected to arrive in Geneva until Wednesday, an Indian official said.

India is a key party in the negotiations as it rallies behind it developing nations whose economies include large numbers of smallhold farmers.

Nath has said that New Delhi would not sacrifice the interests of its millions of subsistence farmers to clinch a global trade deal.

The importance of the Asian nation was underlined in a meeting last year of the “G4” group of India, Brazil, the EU and US in Potsdam, Germany. The early departure of the two developing countries from talks during that time resulted in a meltdown of the session.

At the end of Monday’s talks, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim described the first day of meetings as “totally useless” owing to the absence of new ideas.

“Maybe it was a necessary meeting, maybe we have to go through that but it was actually totally useless from my point of view, because I did not hear any new ideas, any new suggestion, let’s wait for tomorrow,” he told reporters.

The Doha round of negotiations was launched amid high hopes in the Qatari capital in 2001. But it has foundered ever since as developed and developing countries have bickered over concessions on issues such as agricultural subsidies and tariffs on industrial goods.

WTO Director General Pascal Lamy has invited ministers from about 35 key countries to Geneva this week in a bid to break the impasse and secure a deal by the year-end, before US President George W. Bush leaves office.

Lamy had argued that a Doha deal could inject at least between US$50 billion and US$100 billion each year into the world economy and be of enormous benefit to poor countries.

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