India to sign WTO deal in September, if parallel demand accepted
NEW DELHI: India is willing to sign a global trade
deal, if other World Trade Organisation members can agree to its parallel
demand for concessions on stockpiling food, senior officials in New Delhi said
The deadline to sign the WTO pact to ease worldwide
customs rules lapsed at midnight in Geneva on Thursday after India demanded
that the group also finalise an agreement giving it more freedom to subsidise
and stockpile food grains than is allowed by WTO rules.
It was not immediately clear if the latest comments by
Indian officials would open a window for the deal to be resurrected. In Geneva,
a trade diplomat from a developing nation said, “The trust that countries have
in what India says is going to be significantly diminished.”
The officials in New Delhi said the deal could be
signed as early as September. “It is ridiculous to say the Bali deal is dead,” said
a senior official at India’s trade ministry, referring to the Trade
Facilitation Agreement (TFA) pact that was agreed on the Indonesian island of
Bali last year.
“We are totally committed to the TFA, and only asking
for an agreement on food security,” said the official, who cannot be identified
under briefing rules.
Another trade official said, “We expect that the (WTO)
director general will call a meeting in September and we are ready to sign the
deal in September itself, provided TFA and food security issues are passed
together. We are quite hopeful for the deal.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was on a visit
to India, told Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier on Friday that India’s
refusal to sign the trade deal had undermined the country’s image. “Failure to
sign the Trade Facilitation Agreement sent a confusing signal and undermined
the very image Prime Minister Modi is trying to send about India,” a US State
Department official told reporters after Kerry’s meeting with Modi.
Several WTO member states voiced frustration after
India’s demands led to the collapse of the first major global trade reform pact
in two decades.
WTO ministers had already agreed the global reform of
customs procedures known as “trade facilitation” in Bali last December, but
were unable to overcome last-minute Indian objections and get it into the WTO
rule book by a July 31 deadline.