Geneva: India’s new trade envoy J.S. Deepak has asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) director general to follow credible negotiating processes, as established under the Doha work programme of 2001, and avoid questionable practices, ahead of the 11th ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December, according to people familiar with the development.

In his first intervention at the informal trade negotiations committee (TNC) meeting on Tuesday, Deepak drew several markers for bringing credible developmental outcomes at the WTO. India “cannot imagine a substantive outcome at MCXI (11th ministerial conference) without a permanent solution on food security," he told director general Roberto Azevedo, according to a participant who asked not to be quoted.

With more than 800 million hungry and undernourished people in the world, the WTO must become relevant by ensuring food security with a permanent solution as mandated by the Nairobi ministerial conference in December 2015, the Indian envoy suggested.

Deepak, who assumed office on 1 June, drove home the message that the Indian government, along with other countries, wants to ensure the “implementation of the declarations and decisions adopted at Doha and the ministerial conferences held thereafter" so as to conclude the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) trade negotiations.

“The development dimension is at the core of the DDA and issues of interest to developing countries and LDCs (least developed countries) must be addressed on priority," the Indian trade envoy argued.

More importantly, India along with China, called for elimination of most trade-distorting farm subsidies, called the aggregate measurement of support (AMS). The US, the European Union (EU), Japan, Norway, and Switzerland, among others, provide annually $160 billion for AMS to their rich farmers. “The Doha work programme can best be taken forward by reducing some of the inequities built into the WTO rules in favour of developed countries," Deepak argued.

Without addressing the unresolved Doha issues, the EU and along with several other countries are pushing for negotiating new issues at the Buenos Aires meeting. The issues include rules for e-commerce, disciplines for small and medium enterprises, and investment facilitation.

“These issues like e-commerce, MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) and investment," India said, “are highly premature for rule-making as the membership first needs to deal with the gateway issue of the extent to which these subjects actually lie within the domain of the WTO."

In the face of questionable negotiating practices adopted at the WTO for the past two years, India said “our understanding is that a forum for negotiations can only be created by the decision of the ministerial council," according to people present at the meeting.

Further, the mandate of the TNC, said Deepak, “flows from the decision of the ministers in Doha in November 2001."

“The TNC, therefore, together with its bodies remains the only negotiating forum at the WTO and no other parallel negotiating forum can be created," India argued.

India sought to know from the DG “the need for having an informal HODs (heads of delegation) (meeting) to be chaired by him." India’s concern was shared by Uganda and several other countries.

In his response to the issues raised by India, Azevedo said he will follow the informal TNC meeting for negotiating the outcomes while insisting that the HOD meeting will be used for providing transparency to members on various issues.

Meanwhile, the US which is currently assessing about multilateral trade deals as well as the WTO suggested that the Buenos Aires meeting must provide a path for addressing the “systemic" issues as well as the future of the trade body at the subsequent 12th ministerial conference in 2019.

Instead of addressing consequential outcomes at the Buenos Aires meeting, members must settle for incremental results because of the continued divergent positions on deliverables that are being targeted for the eleventh ministerial meeting which will start in less than five months, the US said.

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