Stalemate at WTO: On U.S. obstructionism

The 11th biennial ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation ended in a stalemate, with countries divided along industrial and developing lines. India is seeing the outcome as a partial success; none of its “offensive” interests were achieved, but its “defensive” interests remain protected. While India’s push to ensure a consensus around a ‘permanent solution’ to the public stockpiling of food for food security purposes was thwarted by the U.S., the “peace clause”, under which countries would not lodge complaints against developing country subsidies to meet their food security needs, remained in place. The failure of industrial countries to fast-track e-commerce talks, and commitments that reductions in fishing subsidies would not be discussed at least until the next ministerial in 2019, are being seen by India as points in its favour. The rift between advanced economies and the rest was apparent. Industrial countries have been keen on moving the agenda forward from development, which was the stated focus of the Doha Round that began in 2001. Developing countries want Doha Round commitments to be fulfilled before topics of interest to the West — such as e-commerce and market access for small enterprises — are discussed. The U.S. has said it wants to clarify its understanding of “development”, and contended that members were using it to gain exemptions from rules, and that some of the richest countries (presumably in absolute and not per capita GDP terms) were claiming this status. It also issued a joint statement with the European Union and Japan, aimed primarily at China, on trade-distorting practices such as over-capacity and mandatory technology transfer policies, while India and China submitted a proposal to end the trade-distorting farm subsidies of Western nations.

President Donald Trump’s disdain for multilateral forums and agreements, which he sees as opportunities for countries to take advantage of America, was reflected in Buenos Aires. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer left before the conference concluded, leaving a leadership vacuum that his EU counterpart, Cecilia Malmström, unsuccessfully tried to fill. In fact, since Mr. Trump assumed office, the administration has blocked the reappointment of judges to the appellate body of the WTO, despite the U.S. being a frequent user of the dispute resolution mechanism. India rightly argued that while its GDP may be growing, the country has hundreds of millions living in poverty and without food security. While India can, and must, develop a multi-pronged approach to end hunger, it is correct to seek clarifications that its sovereign right to provide subsidies for food security is not compromised by the WTO. What has become clear in Buenos Aires is that India cannot rely on the Trump administration for support on crucial trade issues at multilateral forums.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 7:18:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/stalemate-at-wto/article21725712.ece

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