T S Vishwanath: Doha - B20 talks business

T S Vishwanath: Doha - B20 talks business

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 16, 2013 19:50 hrs

Even as negotiators worked to put the Doha Agenda of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) back on track in Geneva, large national business organisations from the G-20 countries have come together to form the B20 Coalition. This coalition will look at various facets of discussion within the G-20 countries, including trade, to present a business perspective to the deliberations. The Confederation of Indian Industry represents India in this group.

The B20 Coalition will submit proposals to the G-20 leaders in areas of international trade, investment and infrastructure, restoring confidence in financial system, global priorities for innovation and development, job creation and investment in human capital and transparency and anti-corruption.

The Paris-based coalition met in Moscow in December to work out the strategy for 2013. The Russians hold the presidency of the B20 for now. The stated objective of the B20 Coalition is to advocate for policies – at national, regional and international levels – that contribute to global growth and job creation. The B20 hopes to use its vast membership base – representing more than 6.5 million businesses across the globe from the developed and developing world – to act as a global sounding board and an initiator of new ideas and proposals for G20 economic policy coordination.

In the area of international trade, the discussion within the coalition is targeted to be comprehensive. It will look at measures needed to strengthen the multilateral process of negotiations, while at the same time addressing the issue of growing protectionism across the globe.

One of the key areas identified by the B20 as an important deliverable in the area of trade, besides others, is trade facilitation. Without doubt this is an important area of focus for most countries. However, what is important will be to identify ways of bringing technical expertise in the developing and least developed countries in this critical area.

Another important agenda for the B20 should be to share experiences of different countries in trade facilitation for improving market access for countries. However, while pressing for this area of work within WTO, the B20 has to be clear that it would also help pursue the developmental goals of the Doha Round. Pursuing any area of work within WTO without pushing the developmental agenda would only lead to situation of standstill for the Doha Round.

The B20 Coalition will have to work towards building a sustainable agenda for the ministerial meeting slated for the end of the year at Bali, Indonesia.

The group also looked at how free trade agreements (FTAs) should be based on the best global practices that need to be identified and used as template for further application and dissemination. The B20 is of the view that FTAs have to remain inclusive, and not exclusive in nature. This is important since there has been a proliferation of FTAs in the world in the last few years but, at the same time, there has been an increase in the protectionist measures, as well. The idea of an FTA would be to balance the need for protection to help domestic industry and open up markets to create competition and build a healthy industry.

Industry has always played a very critical role in helping negotiators focus on areas of importance. The B20, which is represented by some very important industry members, will have to ensure that it remains balanced and is able to provide some key inputs to the negotiators to move the multilateral process forward. Coming up with some very ambitious agenda may also prove detrimental, since it may not pass muster with the countries given their larger objectives. It will be important to look at how a balance can be reached by negotiators between market access issues and developmental aspects of the round.

Protectionism in the form of trade barriers has to be identified and put forward for countries to respond. Importantly, the B20 has to understand that they will not be negotiating an agreement but only helping provide points for negotiators to arrive at a consensus. They must remain in a facilitating mode and not adopt a negotiating position.

The writer is Principal Adviser at APJ-SLG Law Offices

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