ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Crisis Time for India (Again) at the WTO

The upcoming Bali ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation threatens to constrain the National Food Security Act even before it is fully implemented. Outdated WTO provisions will severely limit the extent of food subsidy India can provide and the best the United States is willing to agree to is a two-year reprieve. More generally, Bali is also expected to see a very lopsided outcome with a US-led initiative succeeding in ramming an expensive trade facilitation agreement down developing countries' throats and refusing to address long-standing issues in agriculture and rules of origin.

There is a parallel between the partial shutdown of the United States (US) federal government in early October and the negotiations at the Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ahead of the Bali ministerial in December. The “backdown or shutdown” strategy of a dominant faction of the Republican Party brought public ridicule at home and abroad. President Barack Obama has charged the Republicans for “extorting” concessions through the showdown. “We can’t make extortion as part of [our] democracy”, he says. The Republican hawks are lampooned for their “unreasonable demands”, “brinkmanship”, incessant and intimidating “threats”, “pressure” exerted through powerful lobbies on the administration, and lack of “give and take” in negotiations.

The criticisms heaped on the Republicans are echoed in the attitude of US trade negotiators at the WTO. The US remains determined to extract a multilateral agreement on trade facilitation as part of the Bali package at the ninth ministerial conference beginning in about six weeks.

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