India says Doha trade "impasse" broken

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s trade minister Anand Sharma said on Monday that “the impasse has been broken” over the World Trade Organisation’s long-running Doha round of world trade talks.

While Sharma did not give a timeline for the talks to conclude, he said both the United States and India had emerged from elections with new governments ready to reach an agreement.

“India is keen that the WTO negotiations resume. It is important in the present economic climate that efforts are made to take the Doha process to its successful conclusion,” Sharma, a former junior foreign minister, told Reuters.

“There is much happening now. The impasse has been broken,” he said ahead of his visit to Washington DC, the highest level meeting with the Obama administration since India’s general election saw the Congress-led government re-elected in May.

Trade ministers came close in July 2008 to a deal on the Doha round of talks, but the talks collapsed over a dispute between Washington and emerging economies spearheaded by India over proposals to help farmers in poor nations.

The Cairns Group, 19 nations accounting for more than 25 percent of the world’s agricultural exports, said last week that trade officials from the United States, Europe and India had shown fresh resolve to conclude the Doha talks launched in 2001.

“Well, we have declared our commitment. Why should India not want it? But a solution which is taking care of the legitimate aspirations of the developing countries,” the minister said.

“This assumption that it was India which was an obstacle that may not be true at all because there are other issues on which convergence did not take place,” he added.

“But that is behind us. What is more important is the positive engagement and the initiative of India at Cairns which has broken the logjam.”

The Doha deal is estimated to be worth $150 billion for the world economy and considered even more important now that the world faces its worst economic crisis in decades.

Sharma said India’s offer to host a G-20 summit would help define a roadmap to draw the WTO talks to a conclusion.

Sharma, who was the junior foreign minister in the previous government and has his roots in youth politics, has little experience of economic portfolios and is likely to toe the line set by his reformist boss, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He replaced the flamboyant Kamal Nath, widely seen as a tough negotiator, and appears to place more emphasis on his diplomatic skills and consensus building.

Ahead of his meeting in Washington, the minister said he was positive that the two countries could see eye-to-eye on trade talks and hinted that India would be willing to further open up its markets to U.S. business.

“It’s a two way process when we talk of engagement and I don’t see any restrictions being there or the issue of access,” he said, referring to trade relations with the United States.

Sharma said India would try to offset an export slowdown with fresh stimulus measures that will be announced in the budget, due to be presented in early July.

Editing by Louise Ireland