Economy

WTO: diverse views fuel bleak prospect for outcomes

Closing ranks: 120 nations support India in continuation of the development mandate of the Doha Round.

Closing ranks: 120 nations support India in continuation of the development mandate of the Doha Round.  

India, China, South Africa lead developing nations in seeking commitment to ‘multilateralism, development agenda’

The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Buenos Aires meeting commenced amid concerns on support for anti-globalisation, protectionism and bilateralism.

A vast majority of the 164 WTO member nations — led by India, China and South Africa — are, therefore, learnt to be demanding that the final declaration of the WTO’s highest decision-making body reaffirms commitment to multilateralism and rules-based trading system as well as negotiations with development agenda at the centre.

However, due to the divergent views of the WTO members on several issues, including the outstanding ones in the ongoing Doha Round negotiations, there is little expectation that the outcome of the December 10-13 Ministerial Conference would be substantial.

‘No new issues’

The Doha Round had begun in Doha in 2001 with the ‘development agenda’ — to improve trading prospects of developing nations — at the heart of the talks. However, countries, mostly from the developed world, want what they call the ‘21st century trade issues’ — such as e-commerce, investment facilitation, matters relating to small firms and gender equality — to be discussed for rule-making to enhance the relevance of the WTO.

India, and several countries mainly from the developing world, are against introduction of such ‘new issues’ into the Doha Round, saying it is important to first resolve outstanding issues such as the ones relating to food security and protection of poor farmers before taking up new topics.

Owing to persistent differences, barring a broad agreement on permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes, it is likely to be decided that issues such as ‘Special Safeguard Mechanism’ (SSM, which will allow developing nations to temporarily increase tariffs to counter import surges or price declines, and in turn protect poor farmers), ‘limiting harmful fisheries subsidies’, ‘possible negotiations on e-commerce’, as well as ‘services trade facilitation’ (including easing rules regarding movement of professionals and skilled workers across borders for temporary work or projects) will be addressed through separate ‘work programme(s)’ post Buenos Aires.

According to officials privy to the developments here, India, China and South Africa have the support of around 120 WTO member nations on the issue of continuation of the ‘development’ mandate of the Doha Round without any dilution.

U.S. efforts questioned

On the Dispute Settlement Mechanism (DSM), an overwhelming majority of the WTO members have questioned efforts by the U.S. to block the appointment of judges to the appellate body — a move that they say would undermine the DSM.

The DSM, according to the WTO, is “recognised as a fundamental pillar of the organisation” and “enjoys wide support and confidence among the membership, which values it as a fair, effective and efficient mechanism to solve trade problems.”

The sources also said India’s joint proposal with China — asking the developed nations to eliminate the most trade-distorting form of farm subsidies, known in WTO jargon as Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) — has the backing of about 120 WTO members including from Africa.

“Developed countries have more than 90% of global AMS entitlements amounting to nearly $160 billion. Most developing countries, including India and China, do not have AMS entitlements,” according to an earlier statement from the Indian government.

‘No onerous conditions’

On the ‘permanent solution’ to public stockholding for food security purposes, India’s demand has the support of 120-odd nations, the sources added.

India had made it clear that it would not accept a ‘permanent solution’ with onerous conditions that in turn make it tough for the [Indian] government or other developing countries as well to meet the food security needs of their people. On agricultural issues including the ‘permanent solution’ and SSM, India is working with G-33 (a group of 47 nations). The G-33 which held a meeting on December 9 to ensure that solidarity is maintained on these matters. To get wide support on India’s interests, commerce minister Suresh Prabhu also met with the South Centre, an intergovernmental organisation of developing nations. Besides, he held a meeting with European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and conveyed India’s position on various issues including food security and e-commerce. Mr. Prabhu will also be meeting ministers from developing nations.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 8:10:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/wto-diverse-views-fuel-bleak-prospect-for-outcomes/article21386433.ece

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