Macro Economy

India invites over 40 WTO members for mini-ministerial meet

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on February 05, 2018

Suresh Prabhu, Commerce Minister

Deliberations in March to focus on the future roadmap for the multilateral entity

India has sent out invitations to more than 40 World Trade Organisation members, including the US, the EU, Brazil, Australia and several countries from across Asia and Africa, for an informal mini-ministerial gathering in the third week of March, where trade ministers are to deliberate upon ways to keep the multilateral organisation relevant and map the way ahead.

“Trade ministers have been invited on March 19-20 and the main event has been scheduled on March 20. We hope to have a clearer picture of how to move ahead at the WTO and what our priorities should be at the end of the meeting,” a Commerce Ministry official told BusinessLine.

Trade experts, however, caution that India needs to have a definite agenda in mind and a clear idea on what to focus on.

While New Delhi fought fiercely to keep new issues such as e-commerce and investment facilitation out of the negotiating agenda at the Buenos Aires Ministerial, soon after Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu said at a meet organised by CII that the mini-ministerial must focus on some of the most-relevant issues of the day.

He added that some of the very important emerging issues must be incorporated in the WTO.

“There is no clear agenda yet for this meeting. We don’t know where we are going and whether we are still supporting development issues,” said Biswajit Dhar, from JNU.

According to Abhijit Das from the Centre for WTO Studies, development is at the core of the WTO, and special and differential treatment for developing countries is an essential part of the GATT architecture and WTO rules.

“Special and differential treatment continues to be relevant for large economies such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa, particularly in view of their low per capita income and vast pockets of poverty,” he said, adding that India needs to fight attempts by the developed world to stop extending special treatment to such countries.

On new issues such as e-commerce, investment facilitation and MSMEs, Das said that binding commitments in these areas would go against the interest of India and its industry.


New Delhi failed to get a permanent solution to the problem of treating subsidies for food procurement at Buenos Aires as the US refused to engage on the matter. It, however, enjoys protection against any possible actions from other members in case it breaches the given subsidy limits, as the permanent peace clause remains in place despite the stringent conditions attached to it.

“Developing countries such as India realise that the WTO remains the best platform to serve its interests on the global trade front as it can form alliances to push its interests while in bilateral free trade pacts it is on its own,” the official said.

Many members fear that the future of the WTO could be at stake with the US questioning the dispute settlement system and most countries turning protectionist.

Published on February 05, 2018

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