Buenos Aires: The 11th ministerial conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ended on Wednesday without any substantial outcome as consensus eluded the 164-member body.

After the US on Tuesday blocked a permanent solution on government stockholding for food security purposes, India toughened its stand on new issues including e-commerce and investment facilitation.

Finally, consensus could not be reached on a ministerial declaration and the conference ended with a chair’s summary of MC11 proceedings.

Member states did agree to secure a deal on elimination of fisheries subsidies by the next ministerial in December 2019. Reluctance on the part of China and India to make immediate commitments thwarted a deal on fisheries at the Buenos Aires meet.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri even made a last-minute call to India’s trade minister Suresh Prabhu, leading the Indian delegation at Buenos Aires, to sign a draft ministerial declaration.

“As the draft lacked emphasis on issues close to India’s concern such as multilateralism, Doha Development Agenda, special and differential treatment of developing countries, India refused to budge. No ministerial declaration is better than a bad one," a senior Indian commerce ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

“Due to divergences among members, and a few members not supporting acknowledgement and reiteration of key underlying principles guiding the WTO and various agreed mandates, ministers could not arrive at an agreed ministerial declaration," an Indian commerce ministry statement said.

“We knew that progress here would require a leap in members’ positions," WTO director general Roberto Azevedo said at the concluding ceremony. “We didn’t see that."

Indian officials expressed disappointment as the WTO failed to deliver on its promise of a permanent solution in this round, but expressed satisfaction that they were able to thwart moves by developed countries to introduce new issues into the WTO agenda such as e-commerce, investment facilitation, MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) and gender equality.

Azevedo assured members of WTO’s commitment to deliver a permanent solution on government procurement for food security purposes and said work will continue post MC11 to deliver on that promise.

Developed countries led by the US and the European Union sought to find a way out of the deadlock at the WTO talks by forming large pressure groups on e-commerce, investment facilitation and MSMEs within the WTO with more than 70 members in each formulation. Though WTO is driven by consensus and even a plurilateral agreement needs approval of all members, analysts see the formation of these groups as an attempt to steer WTO away from its focus on multilateralism.

Asit Ranjan Mishra is in Buenos Aires at the invite of India’s commerce ministry to cover MC11.

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