The Hindu, 24 February 2006
UNCTAD talks on trade remain inconclusive
Limited time devoted to deal with issues failed to generate required feedback
– Several key players in the field conspicuous by their absence
– Facts and figures needed to support claims
KOCHI: The UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) negotiations held in Kochi to assess the impact of trade as per the WTO regime as well as the ASEAN FTA (Association of South East Asian nations free trade area) on the local agricultural and industrial sectors, elicited inadequate response from the stakeholders.
Though the aim of the conferences was to draw conclusions on the basis of feedback from concerned sections at the grassroots level, the deliberations ended on an incomplete note.
The issues were serious and needed much attention, but the limited time devoted to deal with the issues failed to generate the required feedback. This apart, the meeting was conspicuous by the absence of several key players in the field. Only a few received direct invitation from the organisers and most of them did not come prepared with the facts and figures in order to impress upon the officials.
In fact, the stakeholders were supposed to espouse the cause of the sector by presenting reasons for inclusion or exclusion of items in the so-called sensitive list, which the UNCTAD had prepared.
The sensitive list pertained to items that could be directly affected by the free trade as per the WTO regime or the ASEAN FTA as the case may be. The list was prepared by the UNCTAD upon the request of the Ministry of Commerce, on the basis of data available on export and import.
It was decided at the Hong Kong ministerial meeting of the WTO last year that all forms of export subsidies would be eliminated by the end of 2013.
Many developing countries including India demanded that the issue of special mechanism to protect agriculture be addressed before negotiating on a proposed tariff reduction formula.
The Hong Kong declaration has allowed developing countries to decide unilaterally which sensitive agricultural products they want to protect by not reducing the tariff.
Indicators based on the criteria of food security, livelihood security and rural development should guide identification of these special products.
The unorganised sector is not in a position to argue its cause, points out Usha, representative of Thanal, an NGO working in the agricultural arena. The real concerns have not been addressed in required detail, according to her.
P.C. Cyriac, former Rubber Board Chairman, who took part in the talks, felt that a better effort could have been made by various agencies. "There is no point in blaming the authorities if the opportunities to represent the issues are not availed of," he said. Nevertheless, he points out that there is an opportunity for the stakeholders to convey their opinions on the website of the UNCTAD.
In the case of a few stakeholders, the forum for discussion did open an opportunity to vent their feelings in the open.
For example, a representative of the fisheries sector criticised the authorities for making a deal with ASEAN. Import of fish would imperil the prospects of the fisheries sector, he argued. But, he too was ill-equipped to convince the UNCTAD officials on the extent of harm that the import of different varieties of fish as mentioned in the detailed list prepared by the latter could cause.