- During the 12th Ministerial Conference, WTO has to decide which side it is on
- India has taken developing countries on board and will be aggressively pushing for structural reforms
- If WTO wants to stay relevant, it needs to listen to India’s demands and negate it only when they go against the larger good of the world
When you are pushed to the wall, there are two options which you can work on. Push back with ferocious intensity or accept your defeat. Second option is practically more feasible for World Trade Organisation (WTO). But, the organisation is trying its hand on the first option, which is to give a harder push back. However, on negotiation tables, this option only works when you are unfairly cornered.
12th Ministerial conference of WTO
On Sunday, 12th June, 2022, 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of WTO will kick off in Geneva. MC is highest decision making body of the organisation and can decide on almost everything under the ambit of global trade. Originally scheduled to take place in June 2020, in Kazakhstan, the Conference was postponed for two years. Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal will be heading India’s delegation in the Conference.
Read more: Piyush Goyal is leading Indian textile to becoming a $10 Billion export sector
These two years have proved to be defining gap in WTO’s legacy. The supply chain bottlenecks leading to distortions in universal vaccine availability and food security in non-developed nations among other issues have done tremendous damage to WTO and its trade regimes. Unsurprisingly, India has emerged as the voice of countries unfairly hit by WTO’s discriminatory practices. Apparently, India has been seamlessly supplying life-saving vaccines, medical kits, food grains among other stuffs to the world; something which supranational organisations like WTO should have facilitated. Modi government’s increased humanitarian outreach has provided it with tremendous leeway in dealing with WTO.
Read more: As the world struggles to create proper mRNA Vaccines, India creates the first DNA vaccines
India is now in a position to drive WTO’s future course of action. During the MC12, countries (specially developing and underdeveloping ones) all around the world have pinned their hopes on India. They are expecting India to sort out the issue of fisheries subsidies, food security, E-commerce and many other minor and major ones.
Fisheries subsidy is on tenterhooks
Fisheries subsidies has been a bone of contention for more than two decades. Geographical entities like China, the US and European Union have historically provided subsidies in the range of billions of dollars to their fisheries sector. Other countries like India also do it but their subsidy is substantially low. The increased subsidy has resulted in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Everyone agrees on the principle that it needs to be stopped. However, the solution of stopping fish subsidies is not digestible for India and other countries whose fishing sectors have not reached to the zenith of its potential.
Developed countries have suggested on the lines of removing fisheries subsidy while India wants to protect subsidies for low-income, resource-poor fishermen. If WTO is allowed to have its way then developed countries will find it easier to fish in high-sea, while our fishermen will be deprived of even the basic government incentives like support for livelihood, motorisation of fishing boats, fuel rebates and infrastructure. India has rightly rejected these openly discriminatory proposals.
India’s solution is that developed nations should stop subsidizing their sectors for fishing beyond their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles for 25 years. This is based on the assessment that the problem of IUU fishing has its roots in massive subsidies provided by big fishing nations. India is just asking them to step back a side and give equal opportunity for other countries to develop their fisheries. WTO needs to allow enough leverage to developing nations to upgrade their industries (fisheries) which are part of global supply chain.
Opportunity to remove farm subsidies
Farm subsidy is another one of those bottlenecks hampering the development of developing and underdeveloped nations. According to current WTO norms, India cannot provide farm subsidies beyond 10 % of the total monetary value of food produced. Additionally, WTO also asks these countries to not purchase grains from farmers at minimum support price. India has continued both these practices by invoking peace clause but there has to be a permanent solution to this problem.
12th Ministerial Conference is the perfect opportunity for WTO to do away with these negative discriminatory practices and save itself from irrelevancy like its predecessor General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
Read more: It’s time for India to show the WTO that humility is the prime virtue of a beggar
WTO also needs to decide whether it wants millions of people to die in case a corona like pandemic again hits the planet. During the covid crisis, its TRIPS regime prevented a large number of poor nations from availing early developed vaccine. Though that later turned out to be not much damaging as vaccines by Big pharma did not prove to be effective, but no one knows what lies in future.
Read more: India’s Ayurveda industry will smash the hegemony of Big Pharma
India and South Africa have already pushed for TRIPS waiver and more than 100 countries have agreed to it. But, few countries claiming to be part of ‘civilised world’ are not letting poor nations access the full extent of advancement in Science.
WTO needs to save itself
12th Ministerial Conference is litmus test for the WTO. WTO can be conservative in only two ways. Either it is a conservator of its core principle of getting driven by an upcoming power, or its conservatism is stuck to preserving the sanctity of old powers which has driven its uprise in the past. The good thing with first type of conservatism is that it has a hint of liberal world order in the sense that the organisation is open to changes.
The world runs on a fine balancing stick of conservatism and liberalism. Liberalism opens the floodgate while conservatism tells organisation to stick to core principal. All WTO needs to do is just follow what India has advised. It is the only way to save liberalised trade regime. Additionally, siding with India will help organisation arrest its declining legitimacy.
Read more: India’s decision to not participate in WTO meet has an underlying message for the whole world
India is speaking for every undermined country and that is why it is a leader. Besides, India has developed enough bilateral and multilateral clouts that it can even afford to ignore WTO regime for quite some time. Through initiatives like QUAD, ASEAN, International Solar Alliance among others, India is emerging as reliable partner for both developed and underdeveloped countries. When push comes to shove, countries will side with that civilisational state which provided them wheat and vaccines in times of need, rather than WTO.
Globalisation is already dying. But, it can save itself by acknowledging India’s presence. Surely, WTO would not want to take the credit for putting final knell in the coffin of the phenomenon.
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