GENEVA/ROME, Aug 3 2014 (IPS) – India’s decisive stand last week not to adopt the protocol of amendment of the trade facilitation agreement (TFA) unless credible rules were in place for the development issues of the South was met with “astonishment” and “dismay” by trade diplomats from the North, who described New Delhi’s as “hostage-taking” and “suicidal”.
It obviously came as something of a shock for representatives of Northern interests that any party should have the brass neck to place the interests of its constituents on the negotiating table.
After all, why should such banal issues as food security and poverty get in the way of a trade agenda heavily weighted in favour of the industrialised countries?
New Delhi was demanding nothing more than credible global trade rules to ensure that “development,” including the challenges of poverty, in the countries of the South take precedence over the cut-throat mercantile business interests of the transnational corporations in the North
In fact, it was India’s firm stand for permanent guarantees for public stockholding programmes for food security that turned this trade agenda upside down at the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week, putting paid to the adoption of the protocol of amendment for implementation of the contested TFA for the time being.
India and the United States failed Thursday at the WTO to reach agreement on construction of a legally binding decision on a “permanent peace clause” that would further strengthen what was decided for public distribution programmes for food security in developing countries at the ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, last year.
The Bali decision on food security was one of the nine non-binding best endeavour outcomes agreed by trade ministers on agriculture and development.
For industrialised and leading economic tigers in the developing world, the TFA – which would harmonise customs procedures in the developing world on a par with the industrialised countries – is a major mechanism for market access into the developing and poorest countries.
The failure to reach agreement came during a closed-door meeting between India and the United States organised by WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo in an attempt to break the impasse between the world’s two largest democracies.
New Delhi was demanding nothing more than credible global trade rules to ensure that “development,” including the challenges of poverty, in the countries of the South take precedence over the cut-throat mercantile business interests of the transnational corporations in the North.
Trade diplomats from several developing and poorest countries in Africa, South America, and Asia say India’s “uncompromising” stance will force countries of the North to return to the negotiating table to address the neglected issues in the Bali package concerning agriculture and development.
These issues are at the heart of unfinished business in the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations, the current round of trade negotiations aimed at further liberalising trade.
“It is important to keep the battle alive and India has ensured that the big boys cannot simply walk away with the trade facilitation agreement (TFA) without addressing the concerns on food security and other major issues,” one African official said.
The industrialised countries and some rising economic tigers in the developing world are unhappy that they cannot now take home the TFA without addressing the problem raised by India and other developmental issues in the Doha Development Agenda negotiations.
Many developing and poor countries in Africa and elsewhere were opposed to the TFA but they were “arm-twisted” and “muzzled” by the leading super powers over the last three months. African countries, for example, were forced to change their stand after pressure from the United States, the European Union and other countries.
The TFA was sold on false promises that it would add anywhere up 1 trillion dollars to the world economy. During the Bali meeting last year, the Economist of London, for example, gave two different estimates – 64 billion dollars and 400 billion dollars – as gains from the TFA, while the International Chamber of Commerce gave an astronomical figure of 1 trillion dollars without any rational basis.