By Apoorva Mandhani
The Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Roberto Azevedo, is currently on an official visit to India. While the agenda for the visit is yet to be disclosed, the meet comes at a juncture when the international trade regime is grappling with President Trump’s death blow to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Moreover, the visit assumes importance as it comes ahead of the 11th WTO ministerial conference to be held in Argentina in December of this year. There exists the looming likelihood of a tug of war between the developed countries demanding the introduction of newer issues and the developing ones seeking resolution of the unfinished agendas.
Roberto Azevedo’s visit could function as a prologue to an opportunity for an upheaval of the current model of globalisation, paving the way for a more inclusive regime.
The proverbial death of the development agenda
[su_pullquote align=”right”]The incorporation of issues such as e-commerce and investment is being viewed as antithetical to the ‘development agenda’ of the negotiations.[/su_pullquote]
The proposed global rules on e-commerce are likely to take centre stage during the visit since India expressed its reservations over the inclusion of the rules in the ongoing Doha Round talks of the WTO. The incorporation of issues such as e-commerce and investment is being viewed as antithetical to the ‘development agenda’ of the negotiations. The fundamental objective of the Doha Round negotiations was to improve the trading prospects of the developing world. However, it looks like this development agenda has been “effectively killed” with the ‘Nairobi package’. Newer issues taking the forefront will only seek to reinforce this perception of the proverbial death of the agenda.
Furthermore, during the recent stakeholder discussion on e-commerce, several Indian companies voiced scepticism regarding a global, regional or bilateral pact on e-commerce, apprehensive of it disproportionately favouring multinational firms. Since India’s e-commerce policy is still considered to be in its nascent stages, coaxing the country into taking a stand on a global e-commerce pact may prove to be futile.The Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Roberto Azevedo, is currently on an official visit to India | Photo Courtesy: Livemint
Unfinished business: Food insecurity
It has been advised that pending issues, such as food security and farm livelihoods, be resolved before discussions on new agreements are initiated. This is in light of the fact that the agenda of the Nairobi Ministerial Meeting has not been implemented completely.
[su_pullquote]WTO Rules on Agriculture have been accused of being skewed in favour of the developed countries, neglecting the interests of small farmers.[/su_pullquote]
WTO Rules on Agriculture have been accused of being skewed in favour of the developed countries, neglecting the interests of small farmers. India had flagged the issue after its Public Distribution System was scrutinised in the context of WTO disciplines on agricultural subsidies. While the debate had ended with a “peace clause”, India has since insisted on a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes. Mr Azevedo’s visit could, therefore, be utilised for reinforcing India’s commitment towards the resolution of this issue.
WTO’s uncertain future
The Tenth Ministerial Conference (MC10) in Nairobi had witnessed a clash of interests between developed and developing countries. It ended in circumstances that left several members questioning the future of the WTO. This was because several objectives, that were set out at the beginning of the Doha Round in 2001, are still lying unmet. Hence, for the WTO to redeem its primacy as the arbiter of international trade rules, it needs to fulfil its current mandate, before taking on any new issues. India, in particular, had attracted a considerable amount of distrust during MC10, when it broke ranks with the developing countries to negotiate the final text with the EU, the US, Brazil and China. It lost several allies as a result of this process.
With India being assertive about reviving the development agenda, Mr Azevedo’s visit could be India’s saving grace and its redemption for having allegedly abandoned the cause of the developing nations.
Featured Image Credits: Workspr
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