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WTO, India Push for Resumption of Global Trade Talks

The head of the World Trade Organization is in India, before heading to the United States, in an effort to try to revive failed global trade talks. As VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi, Indian trade officials are giving no indication they will be the first to budge, saying emergency protection for their country's farmers is paramount.

The World Trade Organization's director general met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, other government leaders and top corporate executives. Pascal Lamy is trying to achieve what he admits will be a difficult goal: reviving, before the end of the year, the collapsed global trade talks.

Last month, ministerial talks failed in Geneva, after 16 out of 20 items being considered were resolved. India and the United States failed to find common ground on number 17, known as the "special safeguard mechanism." It would allow developing countries to impose emergency tariffs if they experienced an unexpected surge of agricultural imports

India Commerce Minister Kamal Nath says a too-high trigger for imposing the emergency tariffs is an unacceptable and fatal flaw.

"If you say 40 percent import surge, my farmers would have committed suicide by then," Nath said.

Agriculture is India's largest economic sector. But during a time of crop failures, falling prices for commodities, and lack of affordable credit, thousands of Indian farmers have reportedly committed suicide. The crisis has become politically sensitive in Indian agriculture.

During a joint appearances with Lamy in New Delhi, the commerce minister praised the WTO leader as a "great friend of India" who is "absolutely impartial."

Lamy, speaking to chief executives of some of India's biggest corporations, said he is expressing a common message to Indian and American government leaders.

"Try to understand each other a bit more, at the political level, because this is a political discussion that has to translate into a technical discussion, not the other way around," Lamy said.

Lamy heads to Washington next week for discussions with American trade officials.

During an earlier joint appearance with Lamy, the Indian trade minister told an audience of foreign ambassadors at a development conference that New Delhi is not opposed to a successful conclusion of the global trade talks, known as the Doha Round.

"I would like to really tell all the diplomats here to tell your capitals that India is committed to the multi-lateral system. We want to have this round," Nath said. "But when we resume, which we must resume, I would only urge all of you to come to the table not looking for what you can get, but for what you can give."

The talks began seven years ago with the goal of allowing developing countries to benefit from a more-open trading system. The WTO says if global import tariffs can be cut in half, the world would recognize a savings of $150 billion a year.

American trade officials have objected to the current proposals from India and other countries, saying they would limit market openings and actually raise new barriers to trade.