Key pillars of WTO should be retained while undertaking reforms: Official

An outcome of the issue is still uncertain as the member countries have not yet reached a consensus on the matter.

WTO reforms
On the proposed fisheries subsides agreement, the official said that India will protect the interest of its fishermen. (File/Reuters)

India would support efforts to improve the working of the World Trade Organisation but its key pillars like special and differential treatment for less developed and developing nations, equal voice and dispute settlement mechanism should be retained while undertaking WTO reforms, an official said.

The Geneva-based 164-member World Trade Organisation (WTO) is a multilateral body which formulates rules for global exports and imports and adjudicates disputes between two or more than two countries on trade-related issues.

WTO reforms is one of the key issues which would figure in the forthcoming ministerial meeting. The four-day Ministerial Conference is scheduled to start from June 12 in Geneva. Last meeting was held in Argentina in 2017.

Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO.

“We believe that WTO is an important organisation. Its multi-lateral nature should never be affected and therefore we support any efforts to improve its working. But the pillars of the WTO which is — special and differential treatment for the less developed and developing nations, consensus based approach that is the equal voice that every member has, transparency requirements, rule of law and dispute settlement mechanism — all these pillars of the WTO should be maintained when we are trying to do WTO reforms,” the official said.

“So we are going to try and focus to bring the WTO reform agenda to be a more focused agenda and maintaining these pillars and these disciplines,” the official added.

Developed countries are raising issues over special and differential treatment and current functioning of the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism.

The other issues which would come up in the Geneva meet includes agriculture and food security, fisheries subsidies, and WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic including patent waiver proposal of India and South Africa.

On the proposed fisheries subsides agreement, the official said that India will protect the interest of its fishermen.

The negotiations for this agreement is aimed at eliminating subsidies to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing; prohibit subsidies which are contributing to overfishing and overcapacity of fish stocks.

Members like India want greater flexibility to preserve their policy space and to strengthen their fisheries sector. These member countries want the developed fishing nations to take greater responsibility for sustainable fishing.

“We should get longer transition period so that we can strengthen the future of our fishermen. India is not the country which is responsible for this problem. We do fishing in sustainable way. We will protect our traditional fishermen,” the official added.

On agriculture and food security, India is seeking a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security.

“We will stand for the interest of farmers in the meeting. We will stand to ensure that our MSP (Minimum Support Price) operations will not get hurt at all. This government will fight for a permanent solution,” the official added.

Further, the official said that India and South Africa have proposed temporary waiver of certain provisions of a WTO agreement on intellectual property rights to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

An outcome of the issue is still uncertain as the member countries have not yet reached a consensus on the matter.

“We have even agreed for a little bit of consensus solution, where it would not be a full TRIPS waiver but a ‘compulsory licensing plus’ kind of arrangement based on authorisation being available to new developers of vaccine,” the official said.

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