Economy

WTO meet on the verge of breakdown

The meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) apex decision-making body is on the brink of a breakdown with the U.S. flatly refusing to accommodate the demands of over a 100 developing nations, including India and China, to implement their food security programmes without stringent conditions. 

In a statement at the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC), India, without directly referring to the U.S said, it was "surprised and deeply disappointed that despite an overwhelming majority of (the WTO) Members reiterating it (a Ministerial mandate for a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes by the MC in 2017), a major member country (the U.S) has reneged on a commitment made two years ago to deliver a solution of critical importance for addressing hunger in some of the poorest countries of the world."

India said the development has the "potential to irreversibly damage the credibility of the WTO, as a Ministerial Decision of all countries present in Nairobi (the MC in 2015) has not been honoured." It added that a "major country (the U.S) stated categorically that they cannot agree to any permanent solution on the public stockholding issue at the current MC." 

The WTO has 164 member countries and all its major decisions are taken by ´the membership as a whole´. 

Another factor that could lead to the meeting ending without a ‘Ministerial Declaration’ is the U.S. questioning the centrality of development in WTO negotiations as currently understood by other members, sources privy to the talks said requesting anonymity.

In its statement, India said while continues to participate in the efforts to draft a credible Ministerial Declaration, "we are firm that any Ministerial Declaration must reaffirm the principles of the multilateral trading system, the completion of the Doha Development Agenda (to improve the trading prospects of developing nations), the centrality of development and the availability of special and differential treatment and other concerns of developing countries." 

WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell told reporters on Tuesday, "at the moment, a consensus has proven elusive." He, however, said though currently there is a clear stalemate, "it is a bit risky to call the (Buenos Aires) meeting a failure as we still don´t know what is going to happen tomorrow (December 13)." 

Mr. Rockwell added that in case if there was no agreement by the WTO members on a Ministerial Declaration, it will not be a precedent-setting development as far as the global trade body is concerned. The meeting of the WTO´s topmost decision-making body had previously ended without the member nations being able to adopt a Ministerial Declaration in Seattle (1999), Cancun (2003) and Geneva (in 2009 and partly in 2011), he said. 

He indicated that in case the Buenos Aires meeting ends without a Ministerial Declaration, there is a possibility of member nations adopting separate texts on various issues.   India, however, said it was committed to preserving and promoting the WTO and the multilateral trading system.

On other matters, the official statement said, "India was supported by over a 100 WTO member countries on all agriculture issues including our proposal to set the direction of agriculture reforms by first eliminating the most trade-distorting form of subsidies used mainly by the rich developed countries."

Other differences between WTO member countries included whether to initiate negotiations on "new issues" such as e-commerce, investment facilitation and proposed norms on small firms, without resolving outstanding issues relating to food security that are part of the ongoing Round of negotiations which began in Doha in 2001.

On this, India said, "The 53-member African Group as well as a large number of developing countries have rallied around and firmly supported us inopposing rules on e-commerce and bringing in new issues such as investment facilitation and (proposed norms on) small enterprises into the WTO’s agenda."

 (This writer is in Buenos Aires at the invitation of Indian Commerce Ministry)

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 3:36:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/wtos-buenos-aires-meet-staring-at-an-impasse/article21561759.ece

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