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Business News/ News / At WTO meet, India calls out trade masquerading as environmental protection
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At WTO meet, India calls out trade masquerading as environmental protection

India also expressed concerns about attempts by developed countries to club long-standing development issues with new issues of trade and industrial policy

Delegates attend the 13th WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday. (Reuters)Premium
Delegates attend the 13th WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday. (Reuters)

NEW DELHI : India expressed concerns about the increasing use of unilateral trade protectionist measures being justified in the guise of environmental protection, at the World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference that began in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

Speaking at a session on sustainable development and policy space for industrialization, India’s commerce secretary Sunil Barthwal said the country has propagated a sustainable way of living as a key to combating climate change. 

These, he said, are based on traditions and values of conservation and moderation, including through a mass movement for ‘Life Style for Environment’.

Barthwal expressed concerns about the increasing use of trade protectionist unilateral measures that are being justified in the guise of environmental protection.

Developing countries seek appropriate policy space to find solutions to their concerns, some of which have been left unaddressed for long, Barthwal said.

“India is of the firm view that developing countries require flexibility in the existing WTO agreements to overcome the constraints faced by them in their industrialization," he added.

He also expressed concerns about attempts by developed countries to club long-standing development issues such as policy space for industrial development with new issues of trade and industrial policy.

Trade ministers and top bureaucrats from 164 countries are meeting in Abu Dhabi to tackle a broad range of topics, including agriculture, fisheries, and the link between trade and sustainable development.

WTO’s member nations will also discuss banning subsidies that contribute to overfishing, extending a pause on taxes on digital media such as movies and video games, and agricultural issues.

However, big deals are unlikely to get through as various countries are yet to agree on key issues. WTO’s rules require full consensus among all 164 member states.

Speaking at another session on ‘Trade and Inclusion’, the commerce secretary said the members mixing non-trade topics with WTO rules can lead to greater trade fragmentation.

“Bringing issues like gender and (micro, small and medium enterprises) in the realm of WTO discussions was not practical because these issues were being discussed in other relevant international organisations already," Barthwal said.

Issues like inclusion are better addressed through contextual and targeted national measures and these do not fall in the domain of international trade relations, he added.

Barthwal said several developed countries were already considering adopting trade distortive subsidies and had erected non-trade barriers in the name of non-trade issues, expressing concerns about unilateralism and its negative spillover effect on the trade interests of developing countries.

India has an unwavering commitment to multilateralism and knows the importance of adhering to the rules-based global trading system, he added.

World trade and output have slowed since the fourth quarter of calendar 2022 as the effects of persistent inflation and tighter monetary policy were felt in the US and the European Union, and as strained property markets in China prevented a stronger post-covid recovery from taking root.

Global economic fragmentation would only make these challenges worse, which is why WTO members must seize the opportunity to strengthen the global trading framework by avoiding protectionism and fostering a more resilient and inclusive global economy, WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said earlier. 

Okonjo-Iweala added that poor countries will struggle to recover without a stable, open, predictable, rules-based and fair multilateral trading system.

According to reports, India will insist on first resolving outstanding matters such as public stockholding for food security at the WTO’s ministerial meeting.

It will also discuss other farm-related issues, demand special fishing rights for developing countries, oppose a Chinese agenda to mix investment with trade, and push for an effective dispute resolution mechanism.

ENDS

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rhik Kundu
Rhik writes about the Indian economy and its crucial indicators. He is constantly navigating corporates, decoding policies, and dabbling with everything in between.
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Published: 26 Feb 2024, 09:49 PM IST
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