India, Africa to forge common cause against Western trade bullying

New Delhi, Oct 4 (IANS) India and the 54 countries of Africa are expected to join forces at a mega summit later this month to form a united front to counter perceived Western bullying, notably by the US, over global trade negotiations ahead of an upcoming WTO ministerial meet to be held in Nairobi in December.

Trade officials from India and Africa are already into negotiations ahead of the Third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) being held here October 26-30, to firm up a joint front that will seek to protect the interests of developing countries in the face of Western pressure to succumb to laws seen as tailored to suit their interests.

The 10th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), to be held in Nairobi on December 15-18, is likely to see the developed world led by the US and the EU in a stand-off against developing countries led by India, China and others, over protecting their interests.

The forging of an alliance between India and the 54 African countries assumes all the more importance in the face of two mega regional trading agreements being negotiated – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) among 12 countries including the US, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan.

Many of the developed countries of the two groupings are keen to see that the “high standards” of these agreements are imported into the WTO corpus.

India is concerned that the TPP and TTIP agreements, that it is not part of, may seek to set international phyto-sanitary standards and factory standards for goods that India and developing countries like it are not yet ready to measure up to.

The two US-led mega trade groupings, being aggressively pursued by the Barack Obama administration, are expected to go beyond WTO standards and protection measures for intellectual property, environment and labour. The standards they set up are also expected to put constraints on India’s pharmaceutical sector, which produces vital generic drugs at cheap rates for the masses.

Another alarming factor is that foreign investors can file complaints against governments for not adhering to standards or any other issue at dispute panels under a special mechanism as part of the mega agreements, which would put constraints on countries like India.

India and developing countries like in Africa are not yet ready to meet the high norms that the two trading blocs are seeking to impose.

The negotiations at the IAFS would seek to form a support base of partnership in countering such heavy-handedness from big blocs, said a source.

Besides forming a common partnership on international trading concerns, the India-Africa Forum Summit would also see India and the 54 African countries forming a partnership on global issues like reform of the UN Security Council for greater representation and on climate change.

The discussions on climate change are set to figure in a major way at the summit, especially ahead of Conference of the Parties in Paris next month.

Terrorism, especially in the wake of terror groups like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and Islamic State, spreading their network and activities in the continent would also feature in a big way at the IAFS. Countering terror, sharing information and forging a united front would feature in the talks.

Skilling of their large burgeoning youth population, which is a matter of concern for both sides, would also be a major focus area of talks at the summit.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at ranjana.n@ians.in

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