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Business News/ News / WTO talks end without consensus on agriculture and fisheries
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WTO talks end without consensus on agriculture and fisheries

India, along with other G-33 members, successfully opposed linking public stockholding of grains to broader agricultural trade reforms, preserving their right to support their agricultural sectors without facing legal challenges in the WTO's dispute system

Delegates attend the 13th World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi. (File Photo: AFP)Premium
Delegates attend the 13th World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi. (File Photo: AFP)

New Delhi: The 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), held in Abu Dhabi, concluded late Friday without reaching consensus on key issues such as agriculture and fisheries, despite an additional day of negotiations and intensive efforts. 

Members including India, the US, and the European Union were unable to find common ground on these critical matters, leaving the conference without a definitive agreement on them.

Nevertheless, a significant outcome from the conference was the agreement to extend the moratorium on customs duties for e-commerce for an additional two years, until the next ministerial conference (MC14). This extension, initially opposed by India and South Africa, was accepted after a request from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the host nation. However, no progress was made on reducing agricultural and fisheries subsidies, maintaining the stalemate.

By the fifth day, most trade ministers had departed, with India’s commerce minister Piyush Goyal being one of the few to remain until the end. 

"We have not lost out on anything. I go back happy and satisfied," Goyal told reporters as talks started to wind down.

The Indian delegation highlighted the country’s commitment to ensuring food security for its vulnerable populations as a key point of discussion at the conference. India's position is supported by the permanent peace clause, which allows it to procure food grains without limit, sidestepping the standard subsidy calculations, that count payments above 3.20 per kg of wheat or rice as subsidy

The permanent peace will remain in force until a permanent solution is agreed upon.

India, along with other G-33 members, successfully opposed linking public stockholding of grains to broader agricultural trade reforms, preserving their right to support their agricultural sectors without facing legal challenges in the WTO's dispute system.

The conference also saw a reaffirmation of the commitment to a fully functional dispute settlement system by 2024 and an improvement in the use of special and differential treatment provisions for developing and least developed countries.

The issue of fisheries subsidies remained unresolved, with India advocating for special treatment for its small-scale and artisanal fishermen, emphasizing the importance of fishing to the livelihoods of 9 million people in the country. India proposed that developing countries be allowed to extend subsidies to their fishermen within exclusive economic zones or up to 200 nautical miles from the shore, while suggesting that wealthy nations cease subsidies for fishing beyond this zone for the next 25 years.

At the closing session, WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said, “We've worked hard this week, we have achieved some important things and we have not managed to complete others."

The conference witnessed a continued debate over the China-led Investment Facilitation for Development (IFD) plan, with South Africa withdrawing its opposition but India remaining opposed, citing concerns over sovereignty and the integrity of the global trade system.

Since 1996, WTO members have been cautious about creating an investment agreement, with a 2004 decision stating that investment negotiations would not proceed until the completion of the Doha Round. At the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Conference, it was agreed that new issues could only be addressed with unanimous consent, maintaining the principle of collective decision-making within the WTO.

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Published: 02 Mar 2024, 10:17 AM IST
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