The ongoing impasse preventing the appointment of new members to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) dispute settlements appellate body is expected to harm developing and least developed countries (LDCs) going forward, said Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan on Monday.
He also raised concerns with the agenda promoted by richer nations to reform the Organization, stating during an ongoing two-day ministerial meet of these countries that it does not address their concerns.
The meet, being organised in New Delhi, aims for a consensus between developing and LDCs on “key issues and challenges” related to the Organization, according to the Commerce Ministry.
This comes in the backdrop of moves by countries like the United States to reform multilateral trade rules, including demands to reduce the number of developing countries eligible to reap benefits of a special and differentiation (S&D) mechanism. It also follows repeated hurdles to the smooth functioning of the WTO’s dispute settlements appellate body over the last two years.
“The reform agenda being promoted does not address the concerns of the developing countries,” stated the Ministry, citing an address by the Commerce Secretary to ministers and other senior officials of these nations at Monday’s meet.
According to Wadhawan, there has been “no active engagement” or movement on key issues of concerns for developing countries, including LDCs, in the negotiating agenda.
“Agriculture remains a key priority for a large membership of WTO representing the developing world. However, there is a strong push to completely relegate existing mandates and decisions and work done for the past many years, to the background,” he said.
The meeting is expected to focus on solutions to the ongoing impasse in the WTO dispute settlement appellate body. It is also expected to focus on ensuring “effective” S&D mechanism for “all developing countries, including LDCs”, according to the Ministry.
The “logjam” in the Organization’s appellate body will harm these countries more as they need the protection of the rules-based system “more than developed countries”, Wadhawan said. The appellate body has shrunk from its required strength of seven members to three over the last two years because the US has been blocking appointments of new members.
“The fundamentals of the system are being tested through a tide of protectionism around the world vitiating the global economic environment. The situation does not bode well for developing countries, including the LDCs,” Wadhawan said.
“There is an urgent need to engage constructively to preserve the system and come up with constructive solutions to the problem,” he said.
Even while negotiations on curbing subsidies for the fisheries sector are still ongoing, the 11th Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires in December 2017 “clearly” mandated that there should be “appropriate and effective” special and differential treatment for developing countries, according to the Commerce Secretary.
“It is important for developing countries including LDCs to collectively work for a fair and equitable agreement on disciplines in fisheries subsidies, which takes into consideration the livelihood needs of subsistence fishermen and ground realities in our countries, and protects our policy space to develop capacities for harnessing our marine resources,” Wadhawan further said.