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Canada in New Delhi for WTO talks heavily criticized by Indian civil society

An open letter signed by 238 Indian civil society organizations and individuals, sent on the eve of WTO ministerial talks in New Delhi, asks India’s United Progressive Alliance government to stop trying to re-energize flawed WTO talks and instead, “go back and rewrite and re-strengthen its position on the protection of millions of our workers and farmers by safeguarding our agriculture and industries.” The joint letter also asks the UPA to respect democracy by bringing its preferred WTO position to Parliament and state legislatures.

The open letter, dated September 2, to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, states that the Government of India’s attempt to ‘re-energize’ the stalled WTO talks is flawed and misguided.

“By hosting a meeting of 35 Trade Ministers representing key WTO members and their coalitions (September 3-4 2009 in New Delhi), the Government hopes to move the Doha Round of trade negotiations towards conclusion no later than next year,” it reads. “The Government’s sudden proactive stance on the Doha deal will have far-reaching, irreversible and adverse consequences for the country’s economy and polity. It will severely increase the vulnerability of our agriculture sector to the vagaries of global trade, impacting our food security and over two-thirds of our population dependent on it. Moreover, it will increase the dependency of India’s industrial economy on advanced countries and exacerbate the impacts of the agrarian and financial crises at home.”

To read a version of the full letter, click here.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk called the WTO ministerial meeting in India “a very important step for our goal for the successful completion of the Doha round of negotiations,” which have been stalled for ages on differences in priorities between developed and developing nations.

On top of agricultural policy disputes, India is leading a coalition of countries pushing to amend the TRIPS agreement on intellectual property to better protect traditional knowledge from bio-piracy.

“This was necessary as a number of individuals or companies in developed countries were usurping traditional knowledge existing in developing countries for centuries and getting it patented in their names,” writes The Economic Times. “The group has been stressing that disclosure of origin of biological resource being patented and benefit sharing with the country of origin of the patented resource should be made part of the Trips agreement.”

Canada, which will be represented in New Delhi this week, as well as Australia, Switzerland and the United States are opposed to the changes.

FROM MULTI- TO BILATERAL

The failed global talks are a key reason why developed nations like Canada, the EU and the United States have been pursuing smaller bilateral free trade agreements at an increased pace.

“We’ve all recognized for some time that the future of the Doha round is uncertain,” said Prime Minister Harper in Panama City this August, as he put his John Hancock to an FTA with Panama. “This is an opportunity for Canada to get out ahead. And that’s exactly what we’re doing – here and in Colombia and elsewhere in our hemisphere.”

There is pressure for U.S. President Obama to clearly outline his position on trade ahead of the G20 in Pittsburgh later this month, and another round of WTO negotiations in Geneva at the end of November, almost 10 years to the day in November 1999 that over 50,000 people marched in Seattle to oppose corporate globalization. Obama has been slow to fill vacant trade positions in his administration and vague on how much energy he is prepared to put into the WTO or other free trade agreements, such as the stalled U.S.-Colombia FTA.

“I do think the president will have more to say about the role trade will play in our overall economic recovery sometime between now and the G20 summit,” Kirk said yesterday.

The Council of Canadians has signed another joint statement, prepared by the Our World is Not For Sale network, calling for a “Global Turn Around” on trade.

“To overcome the current global and systemic crises that now engulf the planet, we must collectively call for the building of a new economic order — one that puts the satisfaction of basic human needs and the implementation of all social, economic, cultural, political and human rights at the centre of its program priorities — and one that is based on models of production and consumption that respect the natural resource limits of the planet, an equitable distribution of these resources among people, and the use of clean, safe and renewable energy resources,” says the OWINFS statement.