Amid growing protectionism, global trade ministers to meet

They may discuss so-called ‘new issues’ considered important by the rich nations in today’s global trade

Trade ministers from various World Trade Organisation (WTO) member nations are slated to gather at the Norwegian capital, Oslo, in October to discuss the need for further liberalisation of global trade amid growing protectionism.

The ‘special’ meet will also deliberate upon the WTO’s future role in the context of ‘new’ challenges for the global trading system and some ‘troubling’ international political developments.

The high-level political convergence comes against the backdrop of WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo’s statement last month in his ‘Mid-year Report on Trade-related Developments’ (for which the ‘review period’ was between mid-October 2015 and mid-May 2016). The report showed “a worrying rise in the rate of new trade-restrictive measures put in place each month (by WTO member countries) — hitting the highest monthly average since 2011.”

Mr. Azevêdo had also said that “(world) trade growth is likely to remain below 3 per cent in 2016, making it the fifth consecutive year of sub 3 per cent expansion.”

New direction

The Oslo event, scheduled for October 21-22, is an initiative being taken by Norwegian foreign affairs minister Børge Brende to give a “new direction” to the WTO, official sources said.

It is also being planned at a time when the progress in the WTO’s nearly 15-year-old Doha Round negotiations — to further open up international trade — is seen to be “very slow” especially due to the perceived ‘disengagement’ of the U.S. that is going in for Presidential elections in November.

Mr. Brende had recently expressed concern over the American tycoon-turned-politician Donald Trump’s proposals on the US foreign policy & trade agreements, including the Republican presidential candidate’s threat to even pull the U.S. out of the WTO.

Clean energy

The Oslo meet is also likely to discuss the so-called ‘new issues’ considered important by the rich nations in today’s global trade.

These include efforts to reach an agreement at the WTO-level to eliminate tariffs on environmental & sustainable goods produced using clean & green energy. Other new issues that can figure in the Oslo talks include e-commerce, global value chains & promotion of supply chains and the impact of ‘Brexit’ (British decision to leave the European Union) on global trade.

India is preparing to take the lead in WTO-level talks to open up global services trade, especially to ensure easier movement of skilled professionals for short-term projects overseas.

Services TFA

In this regard, New Delhi is working on a formal proposal to be submitted soon before the WTO on a ‘Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in Services’.

India — with a strong services sector and a huge pool of skilled professionals — had informally pitched for a WTO-level ‘TFA in Services’ at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ministerial council meeting in Paris in June.

The ‘TFA in Services’ proposal, similar to the WTO’s TFA for Goods (aimed at easing customs norms & boosting global merchandise trade), was then welcomed by Azevêdo and several trade ministers.

India’s efforts to garner support for the proposed ‘TFA for Services’ comes even as it has dragged the U.S. to the WTO, following Washington’s move to hike visa fees for H-1B and L-1 categories that are widely utilised by Indian information technology firms.

India had also objected to Britain tightening norms for foreign skilled workers.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 1:52:08 AM |

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