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World Trade Organisation sews up package after 7-year drought

India’s commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said: “We will take some solid decisions probably after seven years, subject to a few issues being sorted out in the next few minutes… But nothing is done till everything is done.”

India had asked for an end to the moratorium but the US and European Union had argued that letting it expire would undermine a global recovery, already threatened by spiralling prices.
India had asked for an end to the moratorium but the US and European Union had argued that letting it expire would undermine a global recovery, already threatened by spiralling prices.

India managed to extract some concessions as members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) late Thursday sewed up few deals, including reduction in fishery subsidies and temporary patent waivers to fight the pandemic. However, the members of the world body decided to extend a moratorium on cross-border tariffs on electronic transmissions until the next ministerial meeting, which is likely to take place in 2023.

India had asked for an end to the moratorium but the US and European Union had argued that letting it expire would undermine a global recovery, already threatened by spiralling prices.

India’s commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said: “We will take some solid decisions probably after seven years, subject to a few issues being sorted out in the next few minutes… But nothing is done till everything is done.”

Talks were still continuing late into the night (India time) and a joint statement was yet to come.

Sources said negotiations were taking place for granting 15 years to developing countries, instead of just seven years (as was proposed by some developed countries), to end their subsidies for fisheries in lieu of their willingness to extend the moratorium on e-commerce by at least two more years.

While a patent waiver proposal for Covid vaccine gained traction, developed economies, mainly the EU, were unwilling to accept the proposal for the inclusion of therapeutics in the TRIPS waiver.

The four-day ministerial conference, that started on June 12, was extended by a day to give negotiators more time to iron out differences and strike the deal.

The multilateral trade body had seen a seven-year impasse as members differed widely on key issues and a protectionist tendencies rose.

The package included temporary extension of the WTO’s 24-year-old moratorium on e-commerce tariffs until March 31, 2023. Some of the world’s big technology firms were apprehending that if the 1998 accord lapsed this week, it could result in cross-border tariffs on purchases from Amazon.com, Netflix movies, Apple music and Sony PlayStation games etc.

The proceedings of the 12th ministerial conference, which went through several bumps, finally produced some outcome on the last day and prevented a wash-out after a debacle in Buenos Aires.

Goyal expected solid outcomes from the ministerial. “There was a lot of sensitivity to each other’s concerns and needs,” he said. “In the true spirit that embodies world trade — in that spirit that the outcomes of the MC12 are being watched by the world as a signal that the multilateral order is not broken.”

By late evening, trade ministers were considering a deal on the patent waiver proposal, a key agreement that the WTO director general said was necessary to end the “morally unacceptable” inequity of vaccine access in poor countries. The package also includes commitments to help ease the transportation and distribution of vaccines across nations.

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