US must talk numbers to push trade talks: India

Original Publication Date: 
7 March, 2007

NEW DELHI, MARCH 7: The United States needs to start giving some hard numbers in negotiations on farm subsidies to push global trade talks forward and meet a June 30 deadline, a senior Indian trade official said.

Top level trade representatives from the United States, the European Union, India and Brazil met in London and Geneva over the weekend and on Monday in their first talks since negotiations resumed after a 6-month suspension in July.

Talks were halted after leading nations failed to agree on farm subsidies and tariffs, and Gopal Pillai, India's Commerce Secretary, said after his return from Europe that this week's discussions focused on both agriculture and non-agriculture market access. "At the moment no one is willing to talk numbers. As long as the US doesn't talk numbers, it's difficult to move forward," he said in an interview late on Tuesday.

The United States is under pressure to agree to steeper cuts in its farm subsidies, while the European Union is being pressed to make deeper reductions in its tariffs on farm products. Developing nations led by India and Brazil are being pushed to open their markets wider to industrial goods and services but the US also wants to see fewer farm products on their protected list.

Pillai said the US wanted $22 billion as its ceiling for subsidies, which he said was higher than the actual 2006 level of about $19 billion. "How do you have a starting position that is higher than your current position and then expect everybody else to cut?" he said.

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US President George W Bush has 'fast-track' power to negotiate a trade deal only until June 30, and Pillai said the period between mid-April to May 30 was likely to be the crucial time for negotiation because before then the US was likely to concentrate on bilateral trade agreements.

"If there's not a breakthrough by May 30 then we're all in trouble," he said. He expected more talks at official level in the next couple of weeks and that ministers would probably meet again next month. Asked if he thought there was a serious chance of failure, he said: 'It's 50/50'. Launched in late 2001, the so-called Doha round of WTO talks has been billed as an opportunity to lift millions out of poverty and boost the global economy through trade.

India, along with Brazil, has been a lead negotiator for developing nations, who say they are prepared to cut farm product tariffs by two-thirds the percentage cuts of developed nations. Pillai said developed nations were still discussing their sensitive farm products for special treatment. EU and US diplomats say there is very little sign yet that India, whose huge farm market is being eyed by US exporters, is ready to make many concessions on more imports.

About 600 million Indians are dependent on agriculture and about 260 million of them earn less than a dollar a day. India says it must have livelihood security for those subsistence farmers and wants some protection for the sector. India along with other developing nations wants to shelter about 20 per cent of tariff lines from the full force of duty cuts and to keep some safeguards to block some imports if a glut hits.

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