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India calls for trade-related, positive agenda

November 30, 1999

India has called for a positive, achievable and trade-related agenda at the Seattle Ministerial Meeting so as to steer the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the direction of greater equity and balance.  In his statement at the Plenary Session on the first day of the Third Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Seattle this evening, Mr. Murasoli Maran, Minister for Commerce and Industry, Government of India, emphasised that only such a trade-related and positive agenda could usher in greater prosperity for all.   “Only if our approach is development-centric, can our work programme act as a facilitator for accelerated growth of developing countries.  Therefore, every step we take in the direction of trade liberalisation should ensure rewards in the form of larger markets and greater trade-flows for all – let the welfare gains benefit everyone in the planet and not a mere fortunate few,” Mr. Maran told the WTO session.  He strongly underlined that trade negotiations should concentrate on the core issues of market access ensuring smooth flow of trade based on the principle of equity.

India, Mr. Maran said, was committed to a strengthened, rule-based, non-discriminatory multilateral trading system that should be fair and equitable.  The central theme of any negotiations should be to focus on all-round development capable of eradicating poverty.  “Economic integration cannot advance if the interests of the poor are left behind,” the Minister said.

Referring to agriculture, Mr. Maran called upon the developed countries to eliminate the export subsidies and other trade distortive support.  At the same time, future negotiations in agriculture must not in any way limit the flexibility of large rural agrarian economies to support and protect their domestic production as well as to achieve the objectives of food security and rural employment, the Minister stressed.

Mr. Maran also said that given the emerging prospects, “we should examine the constructive role that electronic commerce and information technology can play in our development process”.  He stated that Indian economy was being opened up to foreign investment in a transparent manner and “we are committed to progressive economic reforms and liberalisation in our own interest and according to our own judgement and pace”.   However, he made it clear that in India’s view a multilateral framework on investment was neither necessary nor desirable.

Articulating India’s concerns, Mr. Maran said that the Uruguay Round Agreements had not served all the members well and there were critical gaps that needed to be urgently addressed.  There were imbalances and inequities in several agreements including those relating to anti-dumping, subsidies, intellectual property, TRIMS (Trade Related Investment Measures) and the non-realisation of expected benefits from agreements such as textiles and agriculture during implementation which had been a matter of great concern.  Elaborating on this, Mr. Maran said that “the special and differential treatment clauses have remained virtually inoperative.  The textile sector has thus far witnessed a mere 4% integration of the restrained items by the developed countries.  Even in areas where developing countries began to acquire trade competitiveness, anti-dumping or subsidy investigations have been initiated in increasing numbers.  The TRIPS Agreement places the right of a patent holder on a higher pedestal than obligations.  However, it does not confer corresponding rights to countries or indigenous communities whose bio-resources or traditional knowledge are put to use.   It is for these reasons that many developing countries have highlighted implementational issues and concerns.  While some developed countries have admitted the validity of many of these concerns, some have avoided substantive engagement in finding solutions on the plea that these would involve a re-negotiation of the agreements.  This is a disturbing signal.  Addressing the implementation issues effectively upfront will alone ensure an image of fairness and equity to WTO”.

Turning to the non-trade issues such as environment and labour standards, Mr. Maran said that India was second to none in its commitment towards environmental protection and sustainable development.  In fact, the very ethos of India’s culture and history was not only to respect, but also to worship nature.  India had, in good faith, agreed at Marrakesh to the establishment of a WTO Committee on Trade and Environment.  However, he said India would strongly oppose any attempt to either change the Committee’s structure or mandate which could be used for legitimising unilateral trade restrictive measures.

On the issue of labour, Mr. Maran said that India was fully committed to the observance of labour standards and cherished all the values of democracy and workers’ rights.  However, it was decided at Singapore once and for all that labour related issues rightly belonged to the ILO. “India resolutely rejects renewed attempts to introduce these in the WTO in one form or another. Any further move will cause deep divisions and distrust that can only harm the formation of a consensus on our future work programme,” he said.