India takes lead to show light at end of tunnel

HARD BARGAINING: (From left) Commerce secretary B V R Subrahmanyam along with commerce & industry minister Piyush Goyal at the WTO ministerial meet in Geneva on ThursdayGENEVA: Just around 24 hours ago, WTO trade talks appeared headed for another abject failure as members could find few landing zones on most issues.

But a series of small group meetings, including several involving India, seemed to have changed the mood as talks stretched till 5. 30 am on Thursday, with ministers seeking to find common ground. By the time they returned to their hotel, several Indian officials, including commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal, had spent nearly 19 hours at the WTO headquarters.

By 9 in the morning, negotiators were back at the WTO building on the shore of Lake Geneva seeking to thrash out the first set of agreements since talks collapsed in Buenos Aires in 2017.

“When in the evening when most had written off the ministerial and we could see that the mood was crestfallen, India took the lead to try and bring everybody together to start talking. The WTO DG (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) played avery important role to help bring people together. Due to the collective wisdom of the entire WTO leadership, all the ministers, everybody got enthused to find solutions and we have been right at the front working as a team and friends, bringing back old partnerships…and the good part is that there is a lot of understandings amongst each other,” Piyush Goyal told reporters as the details were still being worked out.

Describing reports in international media of India blocking a deal as “erroneous and misreporting”, the minister said his team had engaged constructively. Officials said they aggressively put forward India’s position, which may not have been liked by the rich nations, but several of the issues were also taken up by the smaller developing and least developed countries, who are often reluctant to speak up.