In farewell address, India’s WTO envoy JS Deepak lists priorities for trade body

D Ravi Kanth Geneva | Updated on June 01, 2020 Published on June 01, 2020

JS Deepak

India’s trade envoy Ambassador J S Deepak has set five priorities for the World Trade Organization for building “a more inclusive, balanced and resilient multilateral trading system” in order to remain effective in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In his farewell address at the WTO’s General Council meeting, the highest decision making body between the ministerial conferences, Ambassador Deepak urged members to eschew the “business-as-usual” approach by using Covid-19 as an opportunity.

“The need of the hour is to use this crisis as an opportunity to build a more inclusive, balanced and resilient multilateral trading system,” the Indian trade envoy said, cautioning a group of countries not to use Covid-19 as an opportunity for embarking on permanent trade liberalisation.

Five priorities

Deepak, who has mobilised the developing countries for pursuing the developmental trade agenda in the face of powerful challenges at the WTO during his three-year tenure, charted a “way forward” based on five Indian priorities.

First , “the resolution of the Appellate Body impasse” must remain top most priority, Deepak said.

It is common knowledge that the US has unilaterally dismantled the Appellate Body, the highest adjudicating body for resolving global trade disputes. Consequently, the two-stage dispute settlement system is made redundant because of Washington’s intransigent actions last year.

Without the restoration of the Appellate Body, the enforcement of global trade rules will be increasingly decided on “might is the right” basis. Effectively, the resolution of trade disputes could be decided on the previous GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) framework, where a powerful country could easily block rulings that are not favourable to its trade interests.

Against this backdrop, the restoration of the Appellate Body is critical for ensuring that the rules negotiated during the previous Uruguay Round and subsequent multilateral decisions of the Doha Development Trade Agenda negotiations are implemented by big and small countries.

Second, “a more effective and lasting way to ensure the food security of the most vulnerable and eliminate the historic asymmetries in AMS entitlements in the Agreement on Agriculture,” Deepak said.

The major industrialised countries such as the US, the European Union, Japan, Norway, and Switzerland among others enjoy what are called the most trade-distorting subsidies or the AMS (aggregate measurement of support) entitlements whereby they could continue to provide tens of billions of dollars of trade-distorting support to their farmers.

On the contrary, countries with huge populations and resource-poor farmers like India are not able to provide much support to their farmers. India is allowed to provide what is called de minimis support of up to 10 per cent of the value of the support.

Recently, India informed that it breached the 10 per cent commitment for rice and notified it under the Bali perpetual peace clause. The developing countries led by India, Indonesia, South Africa, and China among other pressed for addressing the continued “historic asymmetries”.

Third, said Deepak, is the “urgent need to build the digital capacities of developing countries and LDCs(least-developed countries) in areas like digital skills and broadband infrastructure so that the benefits of the e-commerce applications like e-educaion, tele-medicine, electronic payments and use of digital platforms for sourcing goods and services are available to everyone including in developing countries and LDCs.”

More important, “the requirement of new sources of revenue for developing countries including LDCs has also underlined the need for ending the e-commerce moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic-transmissions,” the Indian trade envoy emphasised.

Major industrialised countries and several developing countries want to make the moratorium for not imposing customs duties permanent. India and South Africa have made strongly proposals to reconsider the moratorium on grounds that are having an adverse effect on their digital and economic development.

Fourth, “the completion of negotiations on disciplines on fisheries subsidies with appropriate special and differential treatment for developing countries including LDCs to protect their small and subsistence fishermen,” the Indian trade envoy said.

There are aggressive attempts to harmonise the fishery subsidy commitments without providing adequate special and differential flexibility.

And five, India called for enabling “the effective use of TRIPs flexibilities to ensure access to essential medicines, treatments and vaccines to all at affordable prices, especially in the context of the Covid19 pandemic.”

During their interventions at the meeting, several trade envoys, including the General Council chair David Walker, the European Union’s trade envoy, and others praised Deepak for his work. It remains to be seen whether the credible and realistic benchmarks set by Deepak will be assiduously pursued by his successor.

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Published on June 01, 2020
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