India, US agree to bridge Doha differences

June 13th, 2008 - 10:47 am ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, June 13 (IANS) Ending their public acrimony, India and the US have agreed to intensify efforts to “narrow the differences and to build on convergences” to find the elusive breakthrough in the Doha round of world trade talks. Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and the US Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab had “agreed that every effort should be made to conclude the Doha Round as expeditiously as possible,” Indian embassy officials said after a meeting here between the two Thursday.

“To this end, senior officials of the two countries would intensify their engagement at Geneva over the coming weeks to narrow the differences and to build on convergences,” they said.

Negotiators from the developing and developed world are trying to hammer out the outlines of an overall deal that trade ministers will use as a starting point if they come together in Geneva in late June or early July.

US demands for greater market access in agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors in the emerging economies like India and China and New Delhi’s insistence on the need to protect the interests of its millions of subsistence farmers are the key differences in their approach.

Earlier speaking at the US-India Global Partnership Summit Global Partnership Summit, organised by the US-India Business Council (USIBC), Kamal Nath said criticism in the US that India had been “a roadblock” in the way of a deal was “unfair and inaccurate.”

A senior US official had Monday accused India of trying to wreck the global trade liberalisation talks, asking it to take responsible leadership as a major economic power “rather than working behind the scenes for Doha’s demise”.

India continues to insist that it and other developing countries be protected from real market opening in industrial goods, agriculture and services, and also asks rich nations to do ever more, US Under Secretary of Commerce Christopher Padilla said at a forum.

Interviewed by TV show host Charlie Rose at the event, he pointed to US farm subsidies, which India and others insist must be reduced to help poor-country farmers compete, as an example of each country’s most sensitive issues.

Nath also voiced optimism the round would succeed, as there was a determination to conclude the talks “like never before” but it would be critical to respect and harmonise sensitivities of different countries.

“This round will close with respecting each other’s sensitivities,” Nath said. “We need to harmonise these sensitivities and get the maximum mileage we can … No country can get everything, but no country is going to give everything away.”

A rule-based multilateral system was as critical to India as it was to US, given India’s growing engagement with the world, he said.

Speaking separately at the same event, Schwab too urged an end to the stalemate in the Doha round after more than five years of tough negotiations, but unlike Padilla she steered away from public criticism of India striking a more conciliatory note.

“No single country, not the United States, not India, is in a position to solve Doha round. There is no silver bullet,” she said while asking advanced developing countries to provide “meaningful” tariff reductions.

“There are countries out there involved in the round who are pushing for the lowest common denominator outcome. If those countries continue to be listened to or catered to … then we’ve got a serious problem,” Schwab said.

Schwab too voiced optimism about the successful completion of the Doha round saying: “Something may be about to happen, folks, and I hope you’re paying attention.” Even with about seven months left before Bush leaves office, she promised to “sprint to the finish.”

Taking note of the exponential growth in India-US bilateral trade and investment, Kamal Nath told the 600-strong audience, which included CEOs of leading US and Indian companies, that trade and investment was now a two way street.

Over the last year India had invested more in US than US had in India. It had also created more jobs in America and US exports to India too had grown by 75 percent making it the fastest growing export destination for US.

This was possible only because India had a healthy economy and its continued health and growth meant further opportunities and markets for US. The rapidly increasing two-way investment, he said, was a testimony of the growing mutual confidence of the business communities in both countries.

Apart from his formal talks with top US officials, Nath also met Schwab, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, former USTR Rob Portman at a dinner hosted by Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen Wednesday.

Gary Ackerman, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia and Jim McDermott, Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans also attended the dinner.

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