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Home / Politics / News /  Consensus eludes WTO ahead of ministerial

Consensus eludes WTO ahead of ministerial

India, along with the G-33 grouping and African nations, had last week proposed several options towards a permanent solution for public stockholding of foodgrains that would give them the flexibility to hand out higher farm support

Experts say the persisting divergence has dimmed chances of any outcome from the conference, which comes after a gap of four years, beginning in Geneva on Sunday

BENGALURU :With five days to go for the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting, a consensus is yet to evolve on key issues, including India’s proposal for a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security and patents waiver on covid-19 vaccines, amid major differences between Western countries and the developing nations. Experts say the persisting divergence has dimmed chances of any outcome from the conference, which comes after a gap of four years, beginning in Geneva on Sunday.

BENGALURU :With five days to go for the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting, a consensus is yet to evolve on key issues, including India’s proposal for a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security and patents waiver on covid-19 vaccines, amid major differences between Western countries and the developing nations. Experts say the persisting divergence has dimmed chances of any outcome from the conference, which comes after a gap of four years, beginning in Geneva on Sunday.

There appears to be not much progress on building consensus on key issues, including fisheries subsidies, a trade official in Geneva said. “There is not much time in hand, and there doesn’t seem to be any possibility of a deal on key issues," the official said on condition of anonymity.

There appears to be not much progress on building consensus on key issues, including fisheries subsidies, a trade official in Geneva said. “There is not much time in hand, and there doesn’t seem to be any possibility of a deal on key issues," the official said on condition of anonymity.

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WTO spokesperson Daniel Pruzin said in a briefing on Tuesday, “There are no outcomes on any of the texts at the moment. But significant progress has been made on each of the issues. We expect discussions to continue…director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is cautiously optimistic on an outcome… some serious issues are out there and will take a lot of work."

India, along with the G-33 grouping and African nations, had last week proposed several options towards a permanent solution for public stockholding of foodgrains that would give them the flexibility to hand out higher farm support. India has proposed the calculation of subsidies in a more relevant and acceptable way that is fair and would give a level-playing field to developing countries. It has also opposed the proposal that would restrict its ability to put export restrictions on food purchased for humanitarian purposes by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) as it will restrict its policy space to deal with domestic food security concerns. India also wants WTO to allow exports of foodgrains from public stocks for global food aid and for humanitarian purposes, especially on a government-to-government basis.

In the permanent solution proposal, India has recommended adjusting for excessive inflation the ‘external reference price’ to arrive at the minimum support price ceiling of 10% of the total value of production of the crop currently allowed under WTO rules. This support is currently calculated at 1986-88 prices.

“I do not expect any forward movement on any of the issues on the table at the WTO, be it agriculture, fisheries, or patents waiver, as there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on the issue. The proponents and opponents are sharply divided," said Biswajit Dhar, a professor at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

India is also learnt to be refusing to accept an agreement on fisheries subsidies. New Delhi believes the proposed draft lacks fairness and the right balance. The proposal seeks to build a consensus on the agreement that aims to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and promote sustainable fishing. India has highlighted that developing countries not engaged in distant water fishing should be exempted from overfishing subsidy prohibitions for at least 25 years as the sector is still at a nascent stage.

India has pressed for non-specific fuel subsidies, protection for artisanal and small-scale fisheries and exemption up to the maritime limit of 200 nautical miles. Some members suggested that the fisheries subsidies should be exempted up to 12 nautical miles and 24 nautical miles.

India is also opposing an extension of a moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on electronic transmissions at WTO, given the amount of revenue it is losing because of a 1998 agreement. WTO members had agreed not to impose duty on electronic transmissions in 1998, and the moratorium has been periodically extended at the ministerial conferences, but several countries are seeking to make the moratorium permanent. Officials argued that since digital trade at present is dominated by big tech and developed countries, the moratorium squarely favours developed nations. Meanwhile, according to some estimates, India loses about $500 million annually by foregoing duty on e-transmission.

Pradeep Mehta, secretary-general, CUTS International, said the ministerial conference would be very incremental. “No outcome can be expected. Patent waivers and fisheries subsidies are the closest they can get. I am not expecting any outcome on a permanent solution on public stockholding issue," said Mehta.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dilasha Seth

" Dilasha Seth is a journalist reporting on macroeconomic policy for the last 11 years. She writes extensively on issues including international trade, macroeconomic data, fiscal policy, and taxation. At Mint, she reports on trade deals that India is signing besides key policy decisions of the Ministry of Finance. She closely tracked and covered the transition to the goods and services tax (GST) regime in 2017 and also writes on direct tax-related issues. In the past, she has worked with Business Standard and The Economic Times. She is based in Bangalore."
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