An informal ministerial of the World Trade Organization (WTO), organised by India, almost unanimously reaffirmed commitment to preserving a rule-based, multilateral trading system that the WTO represents. The move comes barely three months after the Buenos Aires ministerial collapsed over issues such as the role of the WTO as a multilateral trading body.
It also comes at a time when growing unilateral protectionist policies by the US and some other countries have worsened fears of an escalating global trade war, threatening to render the WTO meaningless.
Speaking at the two-day informal ministerial on Tuesday, commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu stressed that India has been a votary of multilateral trading system. “Let us be mindful that in the past when the key economies departed from multilateral obligations by taking recourse to exceptions for agriculture and textiles, it led to other members securing similar exceptions. This only eroded the system and diminished its credibility,” he said.
WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo said although there is a concern on unilateral decisions by some countries and their potential escalation, members are committed to actively engage to find solutions.
The US recently slapped tariff on its imports of steel and aluminium and hinted at more such protectionist steps. It has also dragged India to the WTO over the latter’s export subsidy programmes, alleging these are hurting US companies.
Offering India’s stance on various issues at the WTO, Prabhu called for respecting mandates and decisions made at earlier ministerial, including the Doha Development agenda (DDA), and pushed for preserving the mandate of special and differential treatment to poor and developing nations. Special treatment allows longer time frames to such nations than their developed counterparts to implement a particular trade agenda, among other facilities.
Separately, Prabhu said the issue of a permanent solution to the critical issue of public procurement programme and all other issues relating to agriculture were discussed. India has been calling for the need for developed nations to cut their massive trade-distorting farm subsidies, which was one of the key issues of the DDA, which is now being sought to be undermined by the rich countries.
Prabhu also said India was willing to look at certain new issues (like e-commerce) only after “we are convinced that these issues are trade-related and negotiating binding rules on them would be beneficial for poor and developing countries”.
The minister expressed concern over attempts to paralyse the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism and called for fast resolution of the impasse. The US has repeatedly blocked a selection process to fill three vacancies at the highest adjudication entity for trade disputes at the WTO, the Appellate Body. Analysts have warned that failure to resolve the deadlock could render the Appellate Body meaningfully non-functional by as early as December 2019.
It wasn’t clear, though, what the US has said on multilateralism but the WTO director general Roberto Azevedo has said the largest economy supports the WTO but wants certain reforms in it. FE