India to host 24 countries for WTO mini-ministerial meet in Delhi

Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia
US and China are among the 24 WTO members who will send their "political representatives" at the 'mini-ministerial' meeting called by India on March 20 to break the impasse on certain issues and prepare a common ground to push the mandate of the global trade body, Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said here today.

The talks at the WTO's 11th ministerial at Buenos Aires in December had collapsed with the US going back on its commitment to find a permanent solution to the public food stockholding, a key issue for developing countries like India.

Soon after the collapse of the talks, Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabu had announced that India would be hosting a mini-ministerial with a view to break the deadlock.

On whether United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer would be coming, Teaotia said he was keen, but the US would be represented by at political level.

Talking to reporters here, she said India has invited 53 WTO members for the mini-ministerial to be chaired by Prabhu.

This would be the second mini-ministerial meeting being hosted by India. The first was in 2009.

Forty countries have confirmed participation, three (Jamaica, Male and Vietnam) have expressed their inability to attend the conference and response of the remaining 10 is awaited, Teaotia said.

The response for "political level" participation is very positive and quite unusual also, she said, adding that 24 members would be sending their political representatives.

The countries which would be sending political representatives, include the US, China, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Singapore and Russia.

Pakistan, which too is among the invitees, is yet to respond, she added.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo would be in India to participate in the meet.

"This will be the largest mini-ministerial in recent times, probably the largest of all time," said J S Deepak, India's Ambassador at WTO.

Stressing that India is quite happy with the response, Teaotia said the meeting would be more of an "ice-breaker" as it is being held after the collapse of talks at the Buenos Aires WTO Ministerial in December last year.

When asked if there would be a statement by the Chair at the end of the meeting, she said it would be for the mini-ministerial to decide.

She said there is no agenda for the meeting.

The idea is to have a free and fare discussion and efforts would be to "try and explore potential for a common ground" among the member nations so that some guidance could emerge for taking forward the mandate of World Trade Organization (WTO).

On outcome from the mini-ministerial, Teaotia one should not expect that "suddenly some magic will work" as this a forum for engagement to find a way out of the deadlock.

The Buenos Aires Ministerial, attended by trade ministers of WTO member countries, had ended without a declaration.

There was virtually little or no guidance from the ministerial for want consensus on host of issues.

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