Food security left out of Oslo WTO meet agenda

Issues such as a solution to public stockholding programmes for food security, steps to curb unforeseen surges in imports of farm produce are being pushed to the future


New Delhi’s attempts to initiate talks on trade facilitation in services did not figure explicitly in the concept paper, though issues concerning domestic regulation in services are suggested. Photo: AFP
New Delhi’s attempts to initiate talks on trade facilitation in services did not figure explicitly in the concept paper, though issues concerning domestic regulation in services are suggested. Photo: AFP

Geneva: India, China, Indonesia, among other major developing countries, have been left high and dry in the trade agenda to be discussed at a mini-ministerial summit of select countries on Friday in Oslo, as their core bread-and-butter issues impinging on the lives of hundreds of millions of people are unlikely to be addressed at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) 11th ministerial meeting next year, according to the “concept paper” issued by Norway.

Issues such as a permanent solution to public stockholding programmes for food security and a special safeguard mechanism to curb unforeseen surges in imports of agricultural products are being pushed to the future—beyond 2017.

“In Nairobi, we (ministers) agreed work on issues and ministerial decisions of special interest for developing countries (including the decisions on domestic support, public stockholding for food security purposes, a special safeguard mechanism, and cotton), will remain important elements of WTO’s future agenda,” the concept paper argued.

A permanent solution to public stockholding programmes for food security ought to have been concluded by December 2015, based on a general council decision, failing which it must be concluded by the eleventh ministerial meeting, according to the Bali ministerial decision of December 2013. It appears now that even the second deadline will be missed, going by the concept paper, reviewed by Mint.

New Delhi’s attempts to initiate a discussion on trade facilitation in services, for removing barriers in the global trade in services, did not figure explicitly in the concept paper, though issues concerning domestic regulation in services are suggested.

Significantly, issues such as e-commerce/digital trade, disciplines for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and fisheries subsidies, which are at the heart of the trade agenda being advanced by the US and its allies in the industrialized world as well as some developing countries, are highlighted as primus inter pares, or first among equals, in the concept paper.

“The issues that are at the forefront of the discussion leading up to MC 11 (WTO’s 11th ministerial meeting), including agriculture, fisheries subsidies, domestic regulation in services, e-commerce and MSMEs, as demonstrated by the high level of engagement in Geneva on these issues, are all of interest to developing countries,” the paper stated.

More important, it aims to discuss how the high standards negotiated in various bilateral, plurilateral, and regional trade agreements such as Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) can be brought into the WTO rulebook. “How can members harvest as much as possible (within the regional trade agreements) within the WTO,” it asked.

Trade ministers from the US, the European Union (EU), China, India, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, Indonesia, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa, Rwanda, Benin, Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica, among others, will attend the meeting and provide responses to questions in four sessions that will last till Saturday.

The concept paper aims to reinvigorate the so-called “negotiating function” of the WTO in the face of rising anti-trade and anti-globalization sentiment across the world.

The first session, for example, deals with “safeguarding the multilateral trading system and strengthening WTO”, during which ministers will answer several questions.

“Would combining smaller multilateral steps with more ambitious plurilateral solutions within the WTO be a way to bridge the gap between ambitions and what is achievable?” and “would the locking in of existing policy regimes (autonomous measures adopted in trade in goods and trade in services outside WTO-bound commitments) be more acceptable than results that require changes to domestic laws and regulations?” are some of the questions in the first session.

During the second session on “advancing economic growth through international trade”, the participants will answer questions on issues such as agriculture, fisheries subsidies, domestic regulation in services, e-commerce and MSMEs, and cover members’ realistic expectations for improvements from a development perspective.

The third session on “Regional trade arrangements (RTAs)—a source of inspiration for work in the WTO”, ministers will grapple with the issue of whether RTAs “function as inspiration for furthering the multilateral agenda”.

And the final session—“Where do we go from here? Securing success at MC 11 and beyond”—will require ministers to provide responses to whether they are expecting major results at the Buenos Aires meeting next year. There is also a dinner discussion for the participants on “We are all facing a facing backlash against trade”.

It remains to be seen what India will say on these issues and whether it will let them pass as it did at the Nairobi ministerial meeting last year, a trade analyst said.

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