India not optimistic of progress at next Doha talks

Tuesday, 25 January 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters) - India is not holding its breath for progress at this week’s meeting of top negotiators pushing for a global trade accord because of scant engagement by the United States, Trade Secretary Rahul Khullar said on Monday.

Washington has shown little appetite for engagement on the Doha round of negotiations and threatens to put the talks in reverse gear by re-opening items already negotiated in the hope of giving greater market access to U.S. business, he said.

Trade ministers will meet at the World Economic Forum in Davos which could give fresh impetus to the Doha round, working towards a revised text which should be settled by April if the negotiations are to be concluded by the end of the year.

The European Union has also convened an informal meeting to host global big hitters the United States, China, Brazil, India, Japan and Australia to make a special push for Doha, which has progressed in fits and starts since its inception in 2001.

“What is there to hold your breath for?” Khullar said in an interview to Reuters.

“There’s been engagement but I don’t see the kind of progress you need to narrow differences,” he said. “At least what’s being reported to me from Geneva does not convey any impression as if the Americans have moved.”

India and the United States were the focus of a dispute that caused the talks to skid in 2008, and their agreement on anything from agricultural tariffs to industrial goods will be crucial to the talks’ success.

The Doha round of trade talks was launched nearly a decade ago to help poor countries prosper through trade, and advocates say a deal will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy.

The EU’s move for a separate, informal meeting at the Swiss meet on Jan. 28 was seen as a possible signal that political momentum may be building to complete the talks.

Washington wants greater market access for U.S. businesses, especially in rapidly emerging India.

Both sides have accused each other of policy foot-dragging over Doha. In India there is a sense that New Delhi is much keener to push for a deal than Washington.

The United States complains that India has not accepted the responsibility that comes with its growing economic strength in the world and insists on shielding many sectors.

“Re-opening settled sectors runs the risk of unravelling years and years of progress in negotiations,” Khullar said, referring to sectors such as cotton. “Why would anybody want to do that?”