Home/ News / India/  India questions legal status of ongoing plurilateral negotiations at WTO

NEW DELHI : India, Namibia, and South Africa have questioned the legality of the so-called plurilateral agreements on e-commerce, domestic services regulations, and investment facilitation by member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO). They said such negotiations cannot be termed plurilateral as they do not have the sanction of WTO and must not lead to modifications to its rule book.

Joint statement initiatives (JSIs) are broadly defined as a plurilateral negotiating tool initiated by a group of WTO members on certain issues without adhering to the rules on consensus decision-making of the multilateral body.

Members negotiating such initiatives aim to conclude the process before the WTO 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in late November at Geneva.

India and other developing nations are concerned over the introduction of new trade rules to the WTO framework surreptitiously through the JSI agreements despite not having consent of all member nations.

The Tokyo Round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations in 1979 led to plurilateral codes that created a fragmented system—while for some parties GATT rules were applicable, for others plurilateral codes were applicable. This created considerable complexity in determining what obligations were applicable in respect of which contracting party.

But the preamble to the Marrakesh Agreement that led to the establishment of the WTO in 1994 highlighted the concerns of its members over the fragmentation of multilateral rules following the Tokyo Round plurilateral codes and was in favour of developing an “integrated, more viable and durable multilateral trading system encompassing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the results of past trade liberalization efforts, and all the results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations".

“Going back to plurilateral agreements would, therefore, be a step in the wrong direction and would be contrary to the determination and resolve as enshrined in the Preamble of the Marrakesh Agreement," the three countries had argued earlier this month.

India, Namibia, and South Africa, however, did not question the members’ rights to meet and discuss issues, but said WTO’s fundamental rules must be followed when such negotiations could lead to modifications to the WTO rule book. “Any attempt to introduce new rules, resulting from JSI negotiations, into the WTO without fulfilling the requirements of Articles IX and X of the Marrakesh Agreement will create precedent for any group of members to bring any issue into WTO without required consensus; bypass the collective oversight of members for bringing in any new rules or amendments to existing rules; usurp limited WTO resources available for multilateral negotiations. Most importantly, such an approach will undermine balance in agenda setting and result in members disregarding existing multilateral mandates arrived at through consensus in favour of issues without multilateral mandates, leading to marginalization or exclusion of issues which are difficult but critical to Membership at large."

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Updated: 22 Oct 2021, 01:50 AM IST
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