Prospects for the World Trade Organization’s grand revival fell as India maintained its demands on numerous fronts on the third day of the trade body’s ministerial summit in Geneva.
According to a statement on his ministry’s website, Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal warned a gathering of delegates Tuesday that his country will not budge on requests for large exclusions on a 20-year discussion to reduce detrimental government fishing subsidies.
According to delegates in attendance, he also pushed that members water down the WTO’s subsidy regulations for government-backed food-purchasing programmes targeted at feeding underprivileged populations.
“Everyone’s eyes have been raised by the Indian delegation,” Mexican Undersecretary of Foreign Trade Luz Maria de la Mora stated in an interview. “You cannot enter a negotiation venue, especially at this level, with demands that they label as non-negotiable.”
The uncompromising attitude taken by one of the world’s greatest developing nations may jeopardise a multi-year attempt to finalise a package of minor but symbolic agreements, and it may reinforce the perception that the WTO is no longer a viable platform for addressing the problems of international trade.
“We are now entering the challenging part of the discussions,” WTO Spokesman Dan Pruzin stated at a press conference. “The bad news is that we’re running out of time.” It’s game time.”
For more than a quarter-century, the WTO has worked on the basis of consensus decision-making, which means that any single member’s veto can derail accords. Critics argue that this paradigm is also why it has been mainly useless as a deal-making arena for much of the last decade.
The world’s top trade officials are already contemplating a more divided age of economic relations in which multilateral agreements become a relic and like-minded states move forward without the holdouts.
“Who should worry India and other smaller, poorer nations that rely on the certainty of a rules-based system to gain from trade,” said Chad Bown, senior economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “They run the danger of eroding that in ways that we don’t know what a successor might look like.”
Negotiations for Overtime
Delegates, according to Pruzin, may prolong the ministerial meeting, which was initially slated to expire on June 15, in order to give themselves more time to pull off a triumph under the leadership of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Other guests, though, were sceptical that anything could persuade India to be flexible.
Prior to Tuesday, many states hoped that a fisheries pact, which aims to help reduce ocean overfishing, would be the WTO’s first multilateral agreement in in a decade.
However, India is requesting extensive exclusions for its fishing sector, including a 25-year phase-in time and a 200-nautical-mile exception for artisanal fisherman. “We believe that without agreeing to the 25-year transition period, we would be unable to conclude the discussions,” Goyal said. “Policy space is crucial for the long-term sustainable growth and prosperity of our low-income fishermen.”
“There are nations adopting some pretty strong stances — very far-reaching demands,” European Union Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told reporters.
On the Verge of Failure
Another EU official stated that the fisheries discussions appeared to be on the verge of disaster, but that some nations may be sheltering behind India’s stance on this and other contentious matters at the summit. Goyal was unavailable for comment, according to a spokesperson.
Some delegates were also concerned that India’s attitude would undermine a pair of widely supported measures aimed at averting a worldwide food catastrophe and avoiding a cascade of international food-export restrictions.
India seeks guarantees that its so-called public stock-holding programme, which buys entirely from the country’s farmers and has previously exported, will not be challenged as unlawful at the WTO.
Key agricultural exporters such as the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and Canada are vehemently opposed to India’s plan to stockpile limitless stocks of subsidised commodities before dumping them on global markets – and there doesn’t appear to be much opportunity for compromise.
E-Commerce, Vaccine Waiver
It’s unclear whether India’s stance will also jeopardise hopes for a pair of treaties to waive intellectual property rights for vaccines and prolong the WTO’s prohibition on digital taxes, but many delegates weren’t ready to declare defeat as the talks came to a close on Tuesday.
“There is still work to be done,” Pruzin said of the intellectual-property waiver, “but I think there is some confidence that it can be achieved.” “It’s more difficult to say about the others.
“I believe the electronic-commerce embargo is a problem.”
Finally, failing to reach global accords would not destabilise the WTO’s system of rules, which governs more than $28 trillion in annual trade flows. However, it may be the clearest indication yet that the world’s commercial partners are realigning their allegiances along geopolitical lines.