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India pushed hard for interests of developing countries at WTO: Sitharaman

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New Delhi: India negotiated hard at the WTO’s recent Nairobi ministerial meeting to ensure that the interests of developing countries remain at the centre of the multi-lateral trade body’s agenda, parliament was informed on Tuesday.

“India negotiated hard to ensure that the WTO continues to place the interest of developing countries and LDCs (least developed countries) at the centre of its agenda,” Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the Lok Sabha.

Some developed countries, including the US, are opposed to the continuation of the Doha Development Round negotiations launched in 2001, she said in a statement to the House, following her return from Nairobi meeting that concluded on Saturday.

Even as rich nations conceded to the demands of emerging economies on issues such as finding a permanent solution to disputes over government stockpiling of food for security, India protested the non-inclusion of the development agenda at the latest trade talks.

The Nairobi Ministerial Declaration acknowledged that members have different views on how to address the future of the Doha Round, but also noted the strong commitment of all members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues, Sitharaman said.

“India not only made a statement to this effect at the closing ceremony on December 19 but also made a written submission to the Director-General, WTO and the Chair of the 10th Ministerial Conference,” the minister said.

She also said on demand from a large number of developing countries for a Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) for agricultural products, India negotiated a ministerial declaration that recognises that developing countries will have the right to have recourse to an SSM.

The SSM allows developing countries to resort to higher customs duties on some farm produce to protect the interests of its farmers.

As the future of WTO’s Doha Development Agenda (DDA) appeared in doubt, India succeeded in obtaining a re-affirmative ministerial decision on public stockholding for food security purposes, Sitharaman said.

India’s statement issued at the end of the Nairobi talks said: “Notwithstanding the difficulty in the negotiations, the draft declaration reflects India’s demand for a reaffirmation from all members to work towards a permanent solution on public stockholding.”

On new issues like investment and e-commerce being pushed by developed countries, Sitharaman said the Nairobi Declaration acknowledges the differences in views and
states that any decision to launch negotiations multilaterally would need to be agreed by all members.

The minister said all countries agreed to the elimination of agricultural export subsidies subject to the preservation of special and differential treatment for developing countries such as a longer phase-out period for transportation and marketing export subsidies.

“The reduction in the massive subsidization of the farm sector in developed countries, which was the clear-cut mandate of the DDA, is now not even a subject matter of discussion today, leave aside serious negotiations,” Sitharaman had said at the plenary session at Nairobi.

She told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that the Nairobi ministerial decision contains disciplines that “include terms to limit the benefits of financing support to agriculture exporters, rules on state enterprises engaging in agricultural trade and disciplines to ensure that food aid does not negatively affect domestic production. Developing countries, such as India, are given longer time to implement these rules.”(IANS)

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India to Set Up “Border Haats” with Myanmar

The Minister said, The success of the "Border Haats" running along the Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and Tripura has prompted us to go for similar 'haats'

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India, Border Haats, Myanmar
To carry out border trade with Myanmar, the location for the construction of 'Border Haat' has been identified in four places -- Hnahlan, Zote, Vaphai (Saikhumphai) and Sangau (Pangkhua) in southeastern Mizoram. Pixabay

The success of the “Border Haats” with Bangladesh has prompted other northeastern states of India to go for similar arrangements with Myanmar. At the instance of the Mizoram government, the Centre is likely to set up four “Border Haats” (market) along the border with Myanmar to boost local trade and livelihood of the people living there.

“To carry out border trade with Myanmar, the location for the construction of ‘Border Haat’ has been identified in four places — Hnahlan, Zote, Vaphai (Saikhumphai) and Sangau (Pangkhua) in southeastern Mizoram,” Mizoram Commerce and Industries Minister R. Lalthangliana told IANS.

The Minister said, “The success of the “Border Haats” running along the Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and Tripura has prompted us to go for similar ‘haats’ with Mynmar in Mizoram.”

Mizoram Commerce and Industries Department Director J. Hmingthanmawia said that the state government has sent the detailed proposals in this regard to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for its approval.

India, Border Haats, Myanmar
The success of the “Border Haats” with Bangladesh has prompted other northeastern states of India to go for similar arrangements with Myanmar. Pixabay

“Once we get the green signal from the MEA, we would seek funds from the Union Industries and Commerce Ministry,” Hmingthanmawia told IANS. He said that officials of the Mizoram government and Myanmar have recently conducted a joint survey and identified the locations to set up the “Border Haats”.

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga in his Independence Day speech had said that the proposed “Border Haats” would become important trade points between India and Myanmar.

“Land Custom Station (LCS) at Zokhawthar, the lone trade route for Mizoram with South East Asian countries, is being proposed for upgradation. Construction of Trade Facilitation Centre at Tlabung has already been completed.”

“The Indian government has also proposed construction of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) at four places at the border in Mizoram — Marpara, Tuipuibari, Silsuri and Nunsury. The construction of ICP at Kawrpuichhuah is also expected to commence shortly,” the Chief Minister added.

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Mizoram has an unfenced international border of 404 km with Myanmar and 318 km with Bangladesh. The Border Security Force (BSF) has been guarding the Bangladesh border and Assam Rifles personnel are posted on the border with Myanmar.

Experts and various studies suggest that if the “Border Haats” are set up, smuggling of drugs and other commodities would be checked to a large extent. Security expert Manas Paul said that large-scale smuggling of drugs from Myanmar via Mizoram and other neighbouring states has increased in the last few years.

“What is really worrisome is the fact that these synthetic drugs have got a domestic market inside the state, especially among the younger generation. Cross border legal activities including setting up of “Border Haats” could curb the smuggling of drugs and other contraband,” Paul, who has authored books on security and terrorism in the northeast, told IANS.

The CUTS International, a Jaipur based international NGO, with support from the World Bank, had conducted a study in 2016 to understand and examine the effect of “Border Haats” on poverty alleviation and other multiplier effects such as informal trade.

India, Border Haats, Myanmar
At the instance of the Mizoram government, the Centre is likely to set up four “Border Haats” (market) along the border with Myanmar to boost local trade and livelihood of the people living there. Pixabay

CUTS International Executive Director Bipul Chatterjee said that trade will increase income, curb smuggling, and cross-border crimes will also go down.

“‘Border Haats’ have contributed to the border area development, roads have improved, trafficking of women has stopped, unemployment issues have been addressed,” said Chatterjee.

Currently four “Border Haats” are operational in Meghalaya and Tripura. The first “Border Haat” was started on July 23, 2011 at Kalaichar (India)-Kurigram (Bangladesh) in the West Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Three other “haats” followed in Meghalaya and Tripura.

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The Union Industries and Commerce Ministry has been spending on an average Rs 3.5 crore to develop the infrastructure and necessary facilities for each “Border Haat” along the Bangladesh border. The Bangladesh government is not providing any funds for the purpose.  (IANS)