July 4, 2006EconomyForeign Affairs

Because the World Cup match went into extra time

Kamal Nath should learn to walk out without acrimony

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

From the utterances of the world’s trade officials, it would appear that the World Trade Organisation’s Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations has always been on life support. With differences being narrowed down to the near the irreconciliable ones—developing country tariffs for manufactured goods and developed country agricultural subsidies—it has now become a game of chicken among the United States, European Union, Japan and the G-20, led by India and Brazil. While The Acorn has argued that domestic reform is more urgent and more important than WTO positions, Kamal Nath, commerce minister and India’s chief negotiator, cannot be faulted for playing hardball at the Geneva mini-ministerial’ round last week.

The tactic of walking out of negotiations must be executed with care. Especially if the Indian delegation had decided to walk out beforehand, it should have made every effort to appear to be working hard at reaching a compromise. Unfortunately, Kamal Nath did not even attempt this.

Some attendees in Geneva said that Mr Nath appeared completely disengaged from the outset, arriving over an hour late to an informal but influential Green Room” meeting of ministers on Friday evening and telling some delegates he had been watching the Germany-Argentina World Cup match that went to extra time and penalties.

The Argentine delegation was present and on time at the meeting. [FT]The Financial Times reporters attribute Kamal Nath’s attitude to Sonia Gandhi’s admonitions against compromise in trade negotiations at a time when farmers’ suicide in Congress-run states is on the political front-burner. That may well be so. But with a more nuanced approach, Kamal Nath and team could have kept the focus on the developed world’s refusal to stop subsidising its farmers.

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