Trade tussle: India voices concern over ‘existential’ threat to WTO

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New Delhi | Published: May 14, 2019 5:37:10 AM

The commerce secretary pitched for reforming the multi-lateral trade body, which is characterised by a “complete lack of balance”.

New Delhi’s observations came on the first day of a meeting of senior officials of 22 members of the WTO here.

Amid a flare-up of trade war between the US and China, India on Monday expressed concerns about “existential challenges to the multilateral rules-based trading system” represented by the World Trade Organization (WTO) due to unilateral tariff measures, imbalance in reforms agenda and an impasse in the appellate body of the WTO, which will potentially jeopardise interests of poor and developing countries.

New Delhi’s observations came on the first day of a meeting of senior officials of 22 members of the WTO here. WTO director general Roberto Azevedo, too, attended the meeting.

Commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu said: “…we are meeting at a time when trade tensions show no sign of abating. The crisis in the dispute settlement mechanism has deepened over the past few months. Further, there has been a rise of protectionist tendencies more recently, which calls for us to collectively debate and discuss the way forward in a multilateral framework.”

These apart, suggestions for reforming the WTO merit a collective response from developing countries, who comprise the majority of the global trade body’s membership. Prabhu reiterated India’s commitment to “a rules-based multilateral trading system as enshrined in the Marrakesh Agreement”.

The US last week slapped extra duties on Chinese goods worth $200 billion. Beijing on Monday announced retaliation against American goods worth $60 billion, reinforcing concerns about damage to global trade growth.

Speaking at the inaugural session, commerce secretary Anup Wadhawan said: “The fundamentals of the system are being tested through a tide of protectionism around the world vitiating the global economic environment. The situation does not bode well for developing countries, including the LDCs (least developed countries).”

The US last week slapped extra duties on Chinese goods worth $200 billion. Beijing has warned of retaliation, reinforcing concerns about damage to global trade growth.

Besides, deadlock in key areas of negotiations and impasse in the appointment of members of WTO’s appellate body are posing challenges.

“The logjam in the appellate body is a serious threat to the dispute settlement mechanism of the WTO and the implementation function of the organisation,” the commerce ministry quoted Wadhawan as saying in a statement.

The delay in appointment of members to the WTO’s appellate body, blocked by the US, has hampered its functioning.

The commerce secretary pitched for reforming the multi-lateral trade body, which is characterised by a “complete lack of balance”.

“The reform agenda being promoted does not address the concerns of the developing countries,” he said.

The discussions in the meeting held here give a chance to reaffirm the commitment to keep development at the centre of the WTO’s reform agenda.

India said reform initiatives must promote inclusiveness and non-discrimination, build trust and address inequalities and glaring asymmetries in existing agreements.

“Agriculture remains a key priority for a large membership of WTO representing the developing world.

“However, there is a strong push to completely relegate existing mandates, decisions and work done for the past many years, to the background,” Wadhawan said.

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