Doha round: Africa may join India to oppose premature closure of WTO talks

African nations may join India in thwarting attempts by developed countries to launch a new round of multilateral negotiations under the World Trade Organization (WTO), after prematurely concluding the stalled Doha development round at the Nairobi ministerial in December.

Addressing a press conference with India’s commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman after the fourth India-Africa trade ministers’ meeting in New Delhi, Mike Bimha, Zimbabwe’s trade minister, said both India and African countries believe that even after Nairobi, there will be continuous discussion and engagement on Doha round issues.

“Both India and Africa share the general approach and thrust. We all believe in the multilateral trading system. Nairobi will not be the end of everything. We believe we will be able to come up with something after Nairobi,” said Bimha, chair of the African trade ministers.

On 21 October, WTO director general Roberto Azevedo, at a meeting of trade ministers from the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States in Brussels, said there is a clear divergence among the members on the way forward for Doha round issues.

“It seems to me that all members agree that DDA (Doha development agreement) core issues must remain on the negotiating agenda — such as agriculture, market access and services. I think, there is consensus on that. However, there is no agreement on how these negotiations should take place: whether under the present Doha framework or whether under some new architecture,” he said.

Bimha said African countries need India’s support at the Nairobi WTO ministerial. “There is an alignment in terms of the position that India has taken or is going to take with that of African countries. I think, together we will be able to effectively represent our regions as we go to Nairobi. After Nairobi, we should be talking about an outcome that is of interest to our two regions,” he added.

The India-Africa trade ministers’ meeting, which precedes the India-Africa Forum Summit of heads of African governments on 26–30 October, was attended by 37 delegates. The India-Africa Business Council (IABC) meeting was attended by 37 chief executive officers (CEOs) from the African side and 31 from India.

However, the trade ministers’ meeting failed to result in a joint statement at the time of going to press. A spokesperson from the commerce ministry said the statement had not been issued as it is still being discussed. Another government official with knowledge of the discussions said Morocco had raised some objections to a paragraph in the joint statement.

Africa is considered the next growth frontier and is already an important trade partner for India. Trade with Africa increased from $39 billion in 2009–10 to $71.4 billion in 2014–15, with exports rising faster than imports.

India’s key export interests are processed petroleum products, drugs and pharmaceuticals and motor vehicles. Crude is the biggest import from Africa, followed by gold, coal and other mining products.

Sitharaman said the two sides have not set any targets for trade. “However, we have identified areas of common interest. It has emerged very clearly that infrastructure, expanding the scope of agriculture, energy, human resource development and healthcare seem to be the areas in which there is immediate possibility of cooperation with African countries,” she added.

Ali Haddad, the co-chair of IABC from Algeria, said African countries need technical knowhow more than money. “I can give the example of Algeria. Algeria does not need any financing as we have reserves worth $150 billion. What we need is technical knowhow,” he added.

India became the first developing country to extend a duty-free, quota-free facility to the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), which will benefit 21 such countries in Africa. It has also said it will provide preferential treatment in services trade to LDCs ahead of the Nairobi ministerial meeting, where the decision is expected to be notified.

Source: Livemint