Buenos Aires: India made a last-minute change in trade minister Suresh Prabhu’s plenary session speech at the 11th ministerial conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Monday to respond to a comment made by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer.
In his plenary session address, Lighthizer seemed to criticize the special and differential treatment enjoyed by large developing countries like India. “We cannot sustain a situation in which new rules can only apply to the few, and that others will be given a pass in the name of self-proclaimed development status. There is something wrong, in our view, when five of the six richest countries in the world presently claim developing country status," he added.
Lighthizer said WTO members should be troubled that so many members appear to believe that they would be better off with exemptions to the rules. “If in the opinion of a vast majority of members playing by current WTO rules makes it harder to achieve economic growth, then clearly serious reflection is needed," he added.
Speaking soon after USTR, Prabhu retorted saying the discourse on development at the WTO is sought to be deflected by specious arguments based on aggregate GDP figures. “While in India we are proud of our GDP and growth rates of recent years, propelled by innovative economic policies of my government, we cannot ignore that India is home to more than 600 million poor people," he said.
“Therefore, we are legitimate demandeurs for special and differential treatment for developing countries. It is also noteworthy that many developed countries of today have benefitted from long periods of derogation from GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) rules in the area of agriculture and textiles," he added.
Asit Ranjan Mishra is at Buenos Aires at the invitation of India’s commerce ministry to cover MC11.