Indrani Bagchi| TNN (NEW DELHI, 19Mar 2018) – A growing part of India’s foreign policy these days is for New Delhi to work hard to change the way the country is perceived around the world. In key areas of multilateral engagement like trade and environment, India is famous as the “naysayer” and the “country that loves to say no”.
Countries negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have expressed frustration at India’s negotiating attitude, some going as far as to wish India was out of it.
As India plays host to commerce ministers of over 40 countries on Monday and Tuesday in New Delhi in a “mini-ministerial”, the primary idea, top government officials said, was to change India’s image — from the “no” country to one that was open to engaging others on old and new issues, becoming a facilitator for discussions leading to a consensus, being a problem solver. All of these are new areas for India’s trade officials who have earned their spurs being the international obdurate.
In April, India will host the International Energy Forum, again a ministerial meeting with similar intentions — to bring producers, consumers, technology and climate change experts together for what is billed as a “forward-looking” conversation on the future of global energy security.
At the Buenos Aires’ ministerial conference, India’s approach drew a lot of criticism. Officials said it wasn’t as if India was in the wrong, it was the “negatively aggressive” negotiating stance that was described as being counter-productive.
India wants permanent solutions for the food security issues that were partially resolved with an India-US agreement back in 2014, but until that is done India refused to talk about other emerging issues that have global relevance, like e-commerce, reinforcing its image of being the neighbourhood recalcitrant.
Meanwhile, the US has blocked consensus on populating the dispute settlement body. With trade wars looming on the horizon, junking the WTO is not believed to be in India’s interest.
It is in this backdrop that New Delhi decided to host the mini-ministerial — it would provide a platform for commerce and trade ministers to talk about the important issues in an informal setting. Any convergence of views would then be taken up by negotiators in Geneva. “We’re trying to be a facilitator, a problem-solver,” said an official involved in the meeting.
It will not change India’s trade strategy, but it hopes to use the event to persuade more countries to its side.The IEF in April will “focus on how global shifts, transition policies and new technologies influence market stability and future investment”, energy minister Dharmendra Pradhan said this week, introducing the forum to envoys of different countries.