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December 1, 1999
INDIA & THE WTO
India rejects inclusion of non-trade issues in WTO
C K Arora in Seattle
Sharply disagreeing with the US position, India has ''resolutely'' rejected the renewed attempts to introduce, in one form or the other, non-trade issues, particularly environment and labour standards, in the agenda of the World Trade Organisation.
''Any further move will cause deep divisions and distrust that can only harm the formation of a consensus on our future work programme,'' Commerce and Industry Minister Murasoli Maran said in his statement at the plenary session on the first day of the third ministerial conference of the WTO in Seattle yesterday.
He said, India had, in good faith, agreed at Marrakesh to the establishment of a WTO committee on trade and environment. However, 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, Maran said 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 International Labour Organisation, he recalled.
Referring to agriculture, Maran called upon the developed countries to eliminate 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 achieve the objectives of food security and rural employment, he added.
He also made out a case for examining the constructive role that electronic commerce and information technology can play in our development process. Maran said Indian economy was being opened up to foreign investment in transparent manner and ''we are committed to progressive economic reforms and liberalisation in our own interest and according to our own judgement and pace.''
He, however, made it clear that in India's view a multilateral framework on investment was neither necessary nor desirable. Articulating India's concerns, the minister said the Uruguay round agreements had not served all the members well and there were critical gaps that needed to be urgently addressed.
He drew attention to what he called ''imbalances and inequities'' in several agreements including those relating to anti-dumping subsidies and 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.
Maran said the special differential treatment clauses have remained virtually inoperative. The textile sector has thus far witnessed a mere 4 per cent 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.
He said the TRIPS agreement placed the rights 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,'' he complained.
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