Covid-19 impact: Poor nations back India’s call to defer WTO talks

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on May 13, 2020 Published on May 13, 2020

Lawlessness in trade is now pervasive

‘Formal decisions cannot be taken at virtual meetings’

India has taken a formal stand at the World Trade Organisation in favour of postponing all negotiations, including the talks on curbing fisheries subsidies, till the Covid-19 pandemic is under control. This has found support from many developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs), an official has said.

New Delhi has argued that while several poorer countries did not have the resources to participate in digital meetings during the crisis, there are others facing livelihood challenges who may change their negotiating positions that would get reflected only when the crisis has run its course.

“India got the support from almost all developing countries, including the African Group and the ACP and the LDCs following its proposal at the informal virtual meeting of the Heads of Delegation that the negotiations need to be suspended. No negotiations are now being held virtually. Some members may raise the issue again at the virtual General Council meeting on May 15, but we are prepared with our arguments,” an official told BusinessLine.

Following the Heads of Delegation meeting, the WTO is now looking at a year-end deadline for completion of the negotiations on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies that was supposed to be concluded at the meeting of WTO Trade Minister’s in June 2020. The WTO Ministerial meet has also been deferred because of the on-going pandemic.

India said that it can agree to the conduct of informal meetings and exchange of views without formal decision-making, through virtual means, so that it remains engaged on important issues. “However, let us be very clear that informal virtual meetings cannot translate into discussions on substantive negotiating issues that have implications on members’ policy,” according to India’s statement at the meeting.

The country is also open to considering regular committees seeking online written submissions, but only on non-negotiating agenda items. The timelines for submitting written responses need to be pragmatic and flexible, it added.

It is not feasible to conduct negotiations on substantive issues through virtual meetings or written procedures as the lockdowns and social distancing norms imposed across most capitals make it challenging to receive substantive inputs from all relevant stakeholders, the statement noted. Also with WTO negotiations low on priority for many countries battling the current crisis, the ability to negotiate is further constrained.

Since the economic hardship and threat to food and livelihood security due to the Covid-19 pandemic may lead several WTO members to re-assess their negotiating positions across different areas of the WTO’s work, to carry on with negotiations in a business as usual format does not make sense, it said.

Published on May 13, 2020

A letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

The coronavirus crisis has changed the world completely in the last few months. All of us have been locked into our homes, economic activity has come to a near standstill. Everyone has been impacted.

Including your favourite business and financial newspaper. Our printing and distribution chains have been severely disrupted across the country, leaving readers without access to newspapers. Newspaper delivery agents have also been unable to service their customers because of multiple restrictions.

In these difficult times, we, at BusinessLine have been working continuously every day so that you are informed about all the developments – whether on the pandemic, on policy responses, or the impact on the world of business and finance. Our team has been working round the clock to keep track of developments so that you – the reader – gets accurate information and actionable insights so that you can protect your jobs, businesses, finances and investments.

We are trying our best to ensure the newspaper reaches your hands every day. We have also ensured that even if your paper is not delivered, you can access BusinessLine in the e-paper format – just as it appears in print. Our website and apps too, are updated every minute, so that you can access the information you want anywhere, anytime.

But all this comes at a heavy cost. As you are aware, the lockdowns have wiped out almost all our entire revenue stream. Sustaining our quality journalism has become extremely challenging. That we have managed so far is thanks to your support. I thank all our subscribers – print and digital – for your support.

I appeal to all or readers to help us navigate these challenging times and help sustain one of the truly independent and credible voices in the world of Indian journalism. Doing so is easy. You can help us enormously simply by subscribing to our digital or e-paper editions. We offer several affordable subscription plans for our website, which includes Portfolio, our investment advisory section that offers rich investment advice from our highly qualified, in-house Research Bureau, the only such team in the Indian newspaper industry.

A little help from you can make a huge difference to the cause of quality journalism!

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
You have read 1 out of 3 free articles for this week. For full access, please subscribe and get unlimited access to all sections.