India decries new tariff barriers signalled by US
Geneva: India on Monday decried “new tariff barriers and even a trade war” being signalled by the United States, emphasizing the importance of multilateral trading system and the need to preserve the “principles of non-discrimination, predictability, and transparency” which are the “bedrock” of the World Trade Organization, according to people familiar with the development.
Without naming the US, India’s trade envoy J.S. Deepak said, “We share the concerns that some Members have expressed on recent developments that could lead to new tariff barriers and even a trade war.” US President Donald Trump signalled last week that he intends to slap safeguard tariffs on imports of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium from all countries.
In a nuanced intervention at an informal Doha trade negotiations committee meeting, Deepak said, “Application of tariffs, we believe, should respect the ceiling of bound rates agreed to at the WTO.”
Several other countries—the European Union, China, Japan, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and Venezuela, among others—also sharply criticized President Trump’s announcement to press ahead with safeguard duties on steel and aluminium.
Even the WTO director general—who often remains silent on US’s unilateral trade-related decisions such as blocking of the reappointment of a Korean member to the highest court for trade disputes or the continued blocking of the selection process for filling three vacancies to the Appellate Body—said on Monday, “In light of recent announcements on trade policy measures, it is clear that we now see a much higher and real risk of triggering an escalation of trade barriers across the globe.” He cited the biblical saying that “an eye for an eye will leave us all blind”, suggesting that such unilateral actions could lead the world in deep recession.
India also cautioned about the threats posed by the US to WTO’s dispute settlement functions because of the continued delay in selection and appointment of members to fill vacancies in the Appellate Body, the highest limb for adjudicating global trade disputes. “This impasse not only threatens the functioning of the Appellate Body which is a key pillar of the dispute settlement system of this organization, but also poses a serious threat to the credibility of the WTO itself,” India cautioned.
New Delhi sought to know “what good is it to invest effort in the negotiation of rules if they cannot be effectively implemented and impartially enforced” against the backdrop of creeping paralysis in the impartial functioning of the global dispute settlement mechanism.
Flagging India’s main “developmental” priorities in the global trading system and at the WTO during the next two years after the failed Buenos Aires ministerial meeting last December, Deepak said, “It is important to have trade rules that enhance food security and support the fight against hunger.” It would also facilitate the achievement of a number of sustainable development goals, relating to the elimination of poverty, malnourishment and hunger, he argued. “The work on obtaining a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security of all developing countries and LDCs, should therefore remain an integral part of our agriculture work program,” India’s trade envoy demanded.
In the face of new plurilateral initiatives (involving two or more members) in electronic commerce, investment facilitation, disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises, and trade and gender being demanded without by major industrialized and some developing countries, India said, “Our consistent view has been that these can only be negotiated after consensus amongst the membership.”
The ACP (Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific) group of more than 90 countries also echoed that plurilateral initiatives can only be discussed after there is multilateral consensus as stipulated in the Nairobi work program. South Africa’s trade envoy Xavier Carim said at the same meeting that “we also disagree on the non-Doha issues”.
But China and Pakistan along with the EU, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and the United States are calling for intensifying discussions on new plurilateral initiatives. The WTO director general is also subtly upping the ante on new issues even though he refuses to utter anything about the unresolved Doha issues, said an African trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.
Against the backdrop of these disorienting developments at the WTO, India said it remains committed “to facilitating and participating in candid conversations at the Delhi Mini Ministerial” on 19-20 March “to chart a way forward for the negotiating agenda and for breaking the impasse related to the AB”.
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