With just over a week to go before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) holds its 12th ministerial conference (MC12), U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai opined that she expects India to be engaging with “intentionality” at the conference. Ms. Tai was responding to a question at an event organised by the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) and Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) that sought her opinion on the view that India ‘did not have a great track record in bringing success to ministerials’.
“Now, India knows its own mind. India has a complex place in the world order to put it diplomatically,” Ms. Tai said, adding that India was becoming more strategic with regard to trade. “In terms of India’s approach to trade and to the WTO, what I see is an increasingly strategic India when it comes to trade, and so, I am confident that India will be engaging with intentionality,” she remarked.
Ms. Tai said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had made trade interactions at large forums all the more complex.
The U.S., she stressed, was working “really hard” to make its trade relationship with India “effective and productive”.
There are a number of big ticket items on the table at the MC12 in Geneva, including a TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) waiver for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics - India and South Africa had proposed this initiative in October 2020. China has suggested it would not seek to be part of the waiver. The U.S. has wanted China’s exclusion written into the deal, Bloomberg had reported in May, rather than relying on Beijing voluntarily staying out of it.
When asked on Monday about the U.S. reaction to Beijing’s offer, Ms. Tai said one of the things she was considering was ‘whether China would stick by the words it spoke or the words that it had signed up to’.
“ I am also interested in seeing who does China send to Geneva,” she said, emphasising that WTO Directer General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had called for the active participation of ministers at the meeting.
Other issues of importance to India in the MC12 context, include ending the moratorium on customs duty for e-commerce trade. India wants customs duties applied to e-commerce and, along with other developing countries, has said that the moratorium, which has been in effect since 1998 (via periodic extensions) , has adversely impacted developing countries in terms of lost revenues .
India has also had reservations with a fisheries subsidies agreement, saying it will support a pact at the WTO only if it is equitable and does not permanently disadvantage some countries.