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India will protect its own interests at Doha

by Ranjit Devraj

New Delhi, 27 Aug 2001 (IPS) - India is standing pat on plans to protect its interests at the World Trade Organisation (WTO)’s ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar in November - interests also shared by several other developing countries.

India’s Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran declared last week, on the second day of a two-day conference on the ‘Concerns of Developing Countries in the WTO Regime’, that India had no fears of being isolated at Doha for pursuing implementation issues pending from the Uruguay Round.

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who visited New Delhi earlier this month, had warned that India could end up being isolated if it opposed fresh talks leading to further opening up of trade at Doha. Zoellick had also warned that should Doha end in failure, the “major losers will be members of the developing world”.

“India is consistent that implementation issues that arose out the Uruguay Round in 1994 should be addressed first,” Maran said.

Given the doubts about entering into a new trade round, Maran dismissed the suggestion that India would be isolated. Even if that happened, India was prepared to defend its national interests. For instance, “we cannot pursue policies that will affect our farmers - we are a democracy,” he said.

In ridiculing those who suggested that India should agree to a new round because China was doing so, and that India should not remain isolated, Maran said that if India, to protect its national interest, could stand up alone against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, there was no reason why it should not take up a stand to protect its national interests on trade.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee referred to the “incomplete agenda” of the Uruguay Round when he opened the two-day conference, but said India would go to Doha with an “open mind”.

Vajpayee said he wanted to see more liberalisation in areas like agriculture.  “Expectations that trade-distorting subsidies in agriculture given by developed countries would be reduced have been belied,” he said. Indian farmers, he said, did not want to be exposed to “unfair competition from subsidised exports,” which he said, threatened livelihoods.

Vajpayee was also emphatic that there should be no “misappropriation” of these resources under the Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS), another major feature of WTO trade rules that critics say has been used against the natural riches of developing countries. He demanded that the patent applications reveal the country of origin of biological and genetic resources and traditional knowledge used in the products or processes.

Earlier this month, India lost a battle at the US Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) to prevent patentability of the famed long-grain, aromatic ‘basmati’ rice, which has been grown for centuries by farmers in this country and neighbouring Pakistan.

Vajpayee also demanded recognition as a universal right of affordable access to medicines for life-threatening diseases. “The TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement should enable every member country to take a broad range of measures for promoting health care, both preventive and clinical.”

Vajpayee said India’s position was shared by many developing countries and large sections of opinion within the developed world itself.

“The WTO is born into an unequal world. Hence, its first mandate is to help bridge this development gap among the nations of the world. India calls upon both developed and developing countries to collaborate and make [the] WTO work for the poor,” Vajpayee said.

In the run-up to Doha, India has been campaigning with the Group of 77 bloc of developing countries for a concerted stand on making use of the ministerial round to get implementation issues addressed.

“Bringing multiple issues to the table just to get substantial trade-offs and swap concessions advantageous for a few countries without any benefit to developing countries does not augur well for the success of the multilateral trading system,” Maran said in a letter to G-77 commerce and trade ministers.

Maran said developing countries needed to coordinate positions on various WTO-related subjects as full stakeholders, keeping in view commonality of interests on major issues.

Maran said he was concerned at the reluctance to “take account of the crisis on patents and drug prices in the WTO and lack of interest and attendance by developed countries of a WTO initiative on technology transfer to developing countries”.

As for new issues, Maran warned G-77 ministers that they should be trade-related and should have been thoroughly discussed so that “we should be able to evaluate its likely impact on the additional rights, responsibilities and obligations and be ripe for such an inclusion”. – SUNS4955

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