WTO Ministerial: India’s firm resolve for an inclusive global trading system

At the recently concluded WTO Ministerial Conference 13 in Abu Dhabi,  the Indian delegation emphasised the country’s commitment to addressing food security for its vulnerable populations as a crucial discussion point. This commitment is viewed as a significant step towards lifting millions of people out of poverty, aligning with the objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


Image Credit: World Trade Organisation (WTO)

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has long been regarded as the cornerstone of the global trading system. However, in recent years, the organization has faced growing challenges, with divisions among member nations deepening and uncertainties about its future direction looming large. Against this backdrop, India’s role in the WTO, particularly in the context of the recently held Ministerial Conference (MC13), takes on heightened significance. As the trade body navigates this era of uncertainty, the country has charted a course that both safeguarded its national interests and contributed to the collective effort to revitalise and reform the WTO.

India has always worked to ensure that the WTO’s rules and regulations took into account the concerns and developmental needs of nations similar to its own, with a particular emphasis on problems like intellectual property rights, agricultural subsidies, and special and differentiated treatment.

Challenges Facing the WTO

Currently facing several internal and external issues, the WTO finds itself at a crossroads. The 13th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Abu Dhabi concluded with the adoption of the Abu Dhabi Declaration. However, consensus was not reached on major issues like fisheries and agriculture, with India opting to uphold its farmer-friendly policies.

India and South Africa dismissed the idea of extending a moratorium on digital trade tariffs during the early hours of negotiation but accepted it after a request from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the host nation.

Additionally, it reaffirmed that the top-most priority was the restoration of the WTO’s dispute settlement (DS) system in its entirety. Due to the US’s obstruction of the appointment of judges, the appellate body has not operated since December 2019, casting doubt on the WTO’s overall legitimacy and the rules-based trade order it has upheld. A US-led push to reform the WTO’s embattled dispute settlement system sparked divisions at a meeting, with India accusing Washington of bringing the trade body to a standstill.

India reiterated its strong belief that a credible and trustworthy WTO Dispute Settlement system is fundamental to fostering a fair, efficient, safe, and predictable multilateral trading system.

India’s Stance and Priorities

During WTO Ministerial Conference 13, developed nations have pressured India to revise its policies, aiming for easier market access for their agricultural goods, which included reducing domestic support such as Minimum Support Price (MSP) and fisheries subsidies. India defended measures like public stockholding (PSH), crucial for welfare programs like PMGKAY and NFSA, benefitting over 80 crore people.

Moreover, India advocated for diverse policy options to promote digital industrialisation, recognizing its potential for economic development, especially in developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The moratorium on import duties for digital products and services was also highlighted.

Additionally, India emphasized the importance of reducing costs related to cross-border remittances, acknowledging their socio-economic impact, particularly on developing nations. Besides, the Indian delegation at WTO MC 13 emphasised the country’s commitment to addressing food security for its vulnerable populations as a crucial discussion point. This commitment is viewed as a significant step towards lifting millions of people out of poverty, aligning with the objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Union Minister Piyush Goyal praised India’s adept handling of critical issues, ensuring the protection of farmers and fishermen’s interests and achieving expected outcomes at the conference.

Charting a Course amidst Uncertainty

India faced significant challenges in navigating an unstable global trading system, with the outcomes of the conference expected to impact its trade policies and economic trajectory. Amidst this, India adopted a proactive approach, collaborating with like-minded partners to advance reform initiatives within the WTO framework, reaffirming its commitment to multilateralism and equitable trade.

As India continues to navigate this uncertainty, it has the opportunity to shape global trade governance in alignment with its national priorities. By actively engaging with the WTO and its member nations, India can contribute to the organisation’s revitalisation and reform, ensuring its relevance in addressing the evolving challenges of the 21st-century global economy.

In conclusion, India’s proactive engagement at WTO MC13 underscores its commitment to multilateralism and fair trade practices. Going forward, India should sustain its collaborative efforts to shape global trade governance, emphasizing inclusivity and advocating for reforms that reflect its national interests.

In the run-up to MC14, India must seize the moment to highlight the inherent unfairness and flaws entrenched in the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA). Recognizing the urgency of the situation, India must also strategically utilise this time to bring attention to the flaws within the agreement and advocate for meaningful reforms. This pragmatic position will place India to assertively address these issues on the global stage, fostering a conducive environment for discussions and potential resolutions during MC14.

Suresh P Singh is Senior Director, VeKommunicate, a public policy research and advocacy organisation and Dr Md Mashhood Alam is a Senior Research Associate at BRCG Research & Development Foundation. Views are personal)

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