Geneva Ministerial

Geneva Ministerial Calm after the Heat of Seattle and Cancun

Arun Goyal Reports live from Geneva

Geneva- 1 Dec. The Geneva Ministerial meeting got off to a slow start with Doha negotiations off the agenda. Only allusions and references to the stalled talks are allowed, everything else is off record. Speaking at the opening session, the USTR Ron Kirk did refer to the negotiations saying that substance is more important than process, unless countries put in offers which show serious intent to start negotiations, the US will not play ball, he threatened.

The protestors too are taking it easy this time with their attention diverted to Copenhagen where climate change talks will begin on 7 December. A few banners do greet the delegates at the entrance to the Geneva conference Centre near the historic Palais des Nations one time headquarter of the League of Nations. There is calm in the air, the rhetoric and hot words of Seattle and Cancun are missing. However, there is an undercurrent of seriousness and purpose in the air/

The Indian delegation led by commerce secretary Rahul Khullar and Additional Secretary DK Mittal is deliberately keeping a low profile in the General Assembly as well as group meetings in the G20 and G33. Gone are the bon homie sessions between the Brazilian trade minister Celso Amorim and Kamal Nath, the former commerce minister who was an active force behind the failure of many mini and regular ministerials. The Indian Mission to WTO too is keeping a low profile with hardly any interactions with journalists. The turnout of Indian media to the Geneva meet is practically zero since the Commerce Ministry is not extending the usual hospitality to the media this time.

Minister Anand Sharma is said to have told the NGOs that he does not talk to them informally when he was asked for his views on the meeting. Apparently, there is a change in Indian hawkish stance on the Doha negotiations and India is in a mood to play ball. There is talk that the conclusions to both NAMA and agriculture may come towards the end of 2010. Services negotiations are already at an advances stage, WTO members are holding back their offers waiting for progress on the other two contentious issues of NAMA and Agriculture. These impressions were drawn in free wheeling informal discussions with WTO secretariat officers.

The Doha talks have progressed well with extensive detailing of the Doha agenda. The agenda has been detailed according to the special needs of different economies and countries according to their special situation. The four African countries under the banner of Cotton 4 are not relenting yet and threaten to block Doha till they are compensated for past losses suffered by them due to poor prices resulting from US cotton subsidies. Eventually, they too will be accommodated in the Doha process, this seems to be the impression of the WTO secretariat.

The conference will pass two resolutions for strengthening WTO which were initially submitted by India and then supported by other majors. There is also another one which calls for the continuation of the practice to offer zero duty on software downloads and transmissions on the internet. The final session will end tomorrow evening with a regular concluding session.