India has expressed hope that WTO’s new Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala would remember Mahatma Gandhi’s advice on considering the fate of the poorest while dealing with a tricky situation when she makes difficult choices at the multilateral trade forum.

Expressing India’s wish to work closely with the DG, India’s Permanent Representative to the WTO Brajendra Navnit pointed out that Mahatma Gandhi, who began his civil rights movement in Africa, had suggested that a person in doubt should ask himself/herself whether the intended action would benefit the poor and the talisman could guide Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala.

“We encourage Dr Ngozi (Okonjo-Iweala) to apply this test (Mahatma Gandhi’s talisman) whenever in doubt and be guided by the need for promoting the welfare of the world’s vast population of the poor and the vulnerable. We hope that under her leadership the outcomes that the WTO delivers will improve their lives. India looks forward to closely working with her towards this end,” he said at the Special General Council Meeting of the WTO on Monday that confirmed the appointment of the new DG.

Her selection is historic as she is the first African as well as the first woman to be the DG, Navnit said, adding that the people of Nigeria and Africa are also to be congratulated.

The WTO may take several important decisions at the next ministerial conference of Trade Ministers likely sometime this year including concluding the fisheries pact and deciding on how to treat trade distorting farm subsidies. Developing countries are also pushing for a temporary waiver to certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement to ensure easy flow of Covid-19 vaccines, medicines and equipment, at low prices.

Also read: All eyes on World Trade Organisation’s new Director General

Views of the new DG on continuing with the special & differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries may have a critical bearing on the on-going discussions, some trade experts say. The fact that Okonjo-Iweala, is also a development economist who served at the World Bank for several years, has also raised hopes of a positive intervention on development matters.

The next few days are likely to be critical for the future of the India-South Africa proposal on temporary waiver of TRIPS provision as the Members may take a call on whether negotiations on the matter should continue some more or be given up as an agreement remains elusive.

While a large number of developing countries and the least developed countries support the proposal for waiving intellectual property obligations for easier supplies of Covid-19 medicines and vaccines, most developed nations are against it.