India has offered a blueprint for promoting development and inclusivity at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and emphasized that resolving the crisis at its highest adjudicating body must be the top priority.
The WTO Appellate Body, the vital limb of the inter-governmental dispute settlement system for resolving and enforcing global trade rules will become dysfunctional from 11 December, after the US repeatedly blocked filling its vacancies.
“Resolving the crisis in the Appellate Body" and “addressing the unilateral actions taken by some members" must remain as immediate priorities for any reforms at WTO, India has said.
At a closed-door retreat of trade envoys hosted by China on 19 June, India issued a concept paper to galvanize developing countries for advancing “developmental dimension" in global trade so as to counter the “one-sided" agenda being imposed by major industrialized countries.
“From New Delhi to Geneva, we have established a platform for developing countries to discuss reforms of the WTO from a developmental perspective," said China’s trade envoy Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen, suggesting Indian paper has laid out what ought to be immediate priorities.
The six-page concept paper says after the immediate priorities are addressed, developing countries must ensure other development concerns, “in particular the outstanding development issues of the DDA (Doha Development Agenda), as well as address the asymmetries in WTO agreements such as those in agriculture and other areas."
Many countries remain alarmed over the narrative promoted by the US and other industrialized countries for bringing “graduation/differentiation" for denying special and differential flexibilities to India and other developing countries. “Most importantly, [WTO] reform must reaffirm the principle of Special and Differential Treatment, which is a treaty-embedded, non-negotiable right for all WTO countries in the WTO and promote inclusive growth, widening spaces for states to pursue national development strategies in the broad framework and principles of a rules-based system," New Delhi’s trade envoy J.S. Deepak maintained at the retreat, according to several participants who asked not to be identified.
Unless all developing and poorest countries join forces for safeguarding “the core values and objectives of the WTO, particularly the consensus-based rule-making, non-discrimination, and special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries," the global trade body will be tilted forever against the interests of developing countries, Deepak warned.
The US and other industrialized countries as well as WTO director general Roberto Azevedo mention non-mandated issues such as the controversial plurilateral initiatives for pursuing digital trade agenda, domestic regulation for trade in services, disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises, and trade and gender, said several trade envoys, who asked not to be quoted.
India, South Africa and representatives of developing country coalitions such as the ACP (Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific group of more than 90 developing countries) and the Africa Group, have called for addressing their bread-and-butter issues before imposing new rules in the digital trade that would deny digital industrialization in their domestic economies.
Ahead of the G20 leaders meeting on 29 June in Osaka, where Japan, the US, and other industrialized countries of the G20 will push hard for a new narrative on WTO reforms and Digital Trade Agenda, the Indian concept paper has bared unresolved multilateral trade issues. In Osaka, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other western leaders are expected to pressure India and South Africa to agree to the new digital trade agenda.