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Ready to Give Up at the WTO?

The new government is signalling that it is ready to agree to US demands at the Doha round.

In a matter of a few weeks after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh formed his cabinet for his second term, India’s tradenegotiating pendulum at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been already subject to some wild swings. If the latest s tatements from new Commerce Minister Anand Sharma are any indication, New Delhi seems determined to shed its hard line stance on the Doha round negotiations, which was justified all these days as essential for protecting its defensive interests in a griculture and other areas. Earlier this week, Sharma, somewhat coincidentally on the eve of his departure to Washington and then again on his arrival there, signalled that the second United P rogressive Alliance (UPA) government would play a key role in concluding the Doha round. Further, Sharma said New Delhi might lend a helping hand to Washington in exploring “new ideas” to close the Doha negotiations that began in 2001.

On the face of it, these pronouncements suggest that India is likely to overhaul its negotiating positions soon. After all, former Commerce Minister Kamal Nath had proved to be a bugbear for WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy and the United States (US) and its allies. His unyielding stand, refusing to lower the bar on the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) flexibility for developing countries to protect against unforeseen surges in some farm imports and his refusal to play ball on mandatory sectoral tariff elimination in industrial goods are cited as factors that held back the Doha clock. It was known for long that the prime minister had wanted to take the commerce portfolio away from Kamal Nath, who had proved difficult to manoeuvre both internally and in Geneva. That was finally accomplished when the cabinet of the UPA-2 government was constituted.

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