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IN JULY 2008, when the Doha talks to liberalize trade among member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) broke down, the US blamed India. This year, when India tried to revive the talks at a two-day informal meet of ministers
from 30 countries in Delhi, the US did not seem keen to clinch the agreement.
The two-day mini-Doha meeting was
held on September 3-4.
At the end of the meeting Indian
commerce minister Anand Sharma said
all member countries have agreed to
resume talks and the agreement would
be finalized in 2010. But US trade representative
Ron Kirk disagreed. "We need
more market access and jobs. The special
safeguard mechanisms (SSMs) and
special products (SPs) need to be
reviewed," he said. SSPs allow developing
countries to slap additional duties on
imports to protect their domestic market.
Special products are goods on
which developing countries can impose
maximum allowed duty.
Commenting on the US stand,
agriculture scientist Bhaskar Goswami
of advocacy group Forum for Bio -
technology and Food Security said the
priority of the developed countries is
tackling recession. They are not interes -
ted in brokering a deal now, he added.
While delegate ministers and officials
negotiated the agreement, over
50,000 farmers held a protest demonstration
at Jantar Mantar near
Parliament House. They were demanding
that agricultural trade be dropped
from the Doha talks, on since 2001.
Farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait,
who led the rally, said, "If the government
goes ahead and signs the agriculture
deal, there will be civil war. What
else will 650 million farmers do if they
do not have food to eat?" A confederation
of farmers' organizations, the
Indian Coordination Committee of
Farmers Movement (ICCFM), issued a
statement saying India should walk out
of the WTO if it cannot make the US and
the EU reduce their farm subsidies.
"Heavy farm subsidies in developed
countries make their products cheaper
resulting in depression in the international
agriculture market," said Yudhvir
Singh of ICCFM. Afsar Jafri of nonprofit
Focus on Global South said
the current negotiations are based on a
draft text prepared by the chair of agriculture
of WTO in December 2008 which
has watered down safeguard mechanisms.
"The actual number of special
products would be just 35 to 40," said
Jafri. "Given our large agricultural base,
India needs to have a large number of
SPs to protect farmers," said Shefali
Sharma of non-profit Third World
Network. She said the SSMs would not
protect farmers either as it involves