India open to non-binding talks on ‘new’ issues at WTO meet

In a significant change of tack to project a ‘positive’ approach, India on Monday said it was open to ‘non-binding’ discussions on new issues such as environment and labour that the rich world wants to initiate at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) coming Nairobi meet, provided it is able to protect the interests of poor farmers and food security.

Ministers from the WTO’s 162 member countries will converge in the Kenyan capital during December 15-18 for negotiations meant to arrive at an agreement to liberalise global trade. “Ours is not an obstructionist approach, but a positive one. We want all the elements of the December 2013 Bali Ministerial Declaration to be honoured and implemented. This includes protection of the interests of poor farmers and our food security,” commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who will be representing India at the Nairobi ministerial conference, told a select group of mediapersons here.

New issues

“There are attempts, not by us, to expand the ambit of negotiations by bringing in new issues. We can have general discussions on these, but we will not undertake any binding commitments,” the minister added.

So far, India has been rejecting out-and-out the developed world’s attempts to introduce new issues in the ongoing Doha Round talks saying it will ‘dilute’ the ‘development agenda’.

These new issues pertain to labour practices, environmental standards, global value chains and promotion of supply chains, e-commerce, competition and investment provisions, environmental and sustainable goods produced using clean and green energy, transparency in government procurement as well as on state-owned enterprises and designated monopolies.

India has been saying that these issues, especially the ones on labour and environment, should be taken up at other concerned international bodies such as the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and not at the WTO.

The developed world already has advanced standards on these ‘new’ issues, including on labour and environment, in the context of trade.

Developing countries such as India have been confronted with development challenges including on labour (with alleged instances of child labour, forced labour and cheap labour) and environment (allegedly higher levels of pollution and poor waste management standards). Therefore, these developing and poor countries fear that linking these issues with the WTO norms will amount to erecting non-tariff barriers, thereby hurting their exports.

India has said new issues should also include those with a ‘development’ angle. This includes discussions on easier movement of natural persons (such as skilled professionals), something not of much interest to the rich world, which fears large scale migration from the developing and poor world and the consequent loss of jobs to locals.

India, in return for allowing non-binding discussions on these issues, wants an effective Special Safeguard Mechanism (a trade remedy allowing developing countries to temporarily hike duties on farm products to counter sudden import surges and price falls, thereby protecting the interests of poor farmers), a permanent solution to the issue of public food stockholding in developing countries for the purpose of food security.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 12:38:32 AM |

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