WTO ministerial meeting: India seeks fixed remedy for food security scheme

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As the World Trade Organization (WTO) prepares to hold its 12th ministerial meeting from June 12, India will seek expeditious resolution of a raft of contentious issues, including a permanent remedy for public procurement programmes for food security and a patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines, at the multilateral body, trade sources and experts told FE.

Moreover, as the ministerial is being convened under the shadow of the Russia-Ukraine war, some expect the crisis — and its devastating impact on world trade and supply-chains — to feature prominently in talks. Of course, a formal agenda is yet to be circulated by the global body. The ministerial, which was to be held in 2020, was deferred due to the Covid outbreak.

India will continue to work with other developing nations and put up a united fight for these demands, and many more, they said.

Public procurement

Given the Ukraine crisis and the consequent spurt in global food prices, a permanent solution to the issue of public procurement for food security will likely top the agenda of India and the rest of the so-called G-33 (a coalition of developing nations), said a trade source. “The food shortage in some parts of the world in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis may prompt developing countries to strongly push for a permanent solution this time,” he added.

India’s key procurement programmes are protected from penal provisions under a peace clause secured at the WTO’s Bali ministerial in 2013 (its permanent status was affirmed in late 2014). But some countries started making fresh demands on safeguards and transparency obligations after New Delhi invoked the peace clause for its rice procurement in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

New Delhi has been seeking a lasting solution at the WTO so that this protection under the permanent peace clause gets further bolstered and even if a member-nation reneges on its promise and complains about India’s procurement programme, the disputes settlement mechanism of the global body won’t consider its appeal.

It will also seek a special safeguard mechanism for developing nations, along the lines of the one available to the developed ones, to protect their farmers from any irrational spike in imports.

Patent waiver for Covid vaccines

India will continue to work with allies to put pressure on developed economies, especially the EU, for an intellectual property rights waiver for Covid-19 vaccines, drugs and diagnostic devices to boost supplies to better fight the pandemic across the globe. The proposal — floated jointed by India and South Africa in 2020 — has faced stiff resistance mainly from the EU, the UK and Switzerland, although the US, after initial reluctance, endorsed a limited waiver.

No immediate end to fishery subsidies

Discussion on fishery subsidies is expected to intensify. India favours a 25-year exemption from over-fishing subsidy prohibition for developing countries that are not engaged in distant-water fishing. At the same time, it suggests big subsidisers abolish their dole-outs within these 25 years, setting the stage for most developing nations to follow suit.

New Delhi believes that big subsidisers (advanced fishing nations) must take greater responsibility in scrapping their dole-outs and reducing fishing capacities, in sync with the principles of “polluter pays” and “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

Massive subsidies, extended mostly by large fishing nations, have contributed to the overexploitation of the world’s fish stocks. An independent study by a group of authors, led by U Rashid Sumaila of University of British Columbia, shows the fishery subsidy in India stood at only $227 million in 2018, way below $7.26 billion in China, $3.80 billion in the EU, $3.43 billion in the US, $3.19 billion in South Korea and $2.86 billion in Japan.

Reforms at the WTO

Following persistent attack by the US on countries, including China and India, for “self -designating” themselves as developing nations at the WTO to enjoy special and differential trade benefits, New Delhi has rooted for a policy of voluntary forgoing of such a status.

It has also stressed that any reform agenda must be “development-centric, preserving the core values of the multilateral trading system and strengthening the provisions of special and differential treatment” for poor and developing countries in both existing and future pacts.

New Delhi has also called for expeditious restoration of the almost-dysfunctional Appellate Body of the WTO for dispute resolution, without diluting its core features. The US has blocked the appointment of judges, thus crippling the WTO’s appellate mechanism.

With the multilateral system, represented by the WTO, under threat, the plurilateral and bilateral arrangements are on the rise.

“With multilateralism losing its importance over time, there is no doubt that plurilateral arrangements are going to be the future road to further trade progress. While there are risks associated with fragmentation caused by such agreements, such risks can be mitigated to a large extent if these agreements are made as WTO-consistent as possible,” according to a paper by Nisha Taneja, Prateek Kukreja and Kishika Mahajan of ICRIER.