WTO DG to meet Sitharaman, Goyal to discuss fate of Ministerial Conference

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on October 17, 2021

India will reinforce need for balanced multilateral pact to safeguard interest of poor, say officials

WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is scheduled to meet top Indian Ministers, including Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, later this week in New Delhi to gain support for a successful 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC 12) next month.

The WTO is hopeful of reaching agreements on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies and pruning domestic farm subsidies at the MC 12 in Geneva during November 30-December 3; but India wants to provide consent only if the pacts are balanced and developing country sensitivities are recognised, an official tracking the matter told BusinessLine.

“The fact that the WTO DG is visiting India before the WTO MC 12 shows the important position India holds in the ongoing negotiations, especially as a champion of interests of developing countries and LDCs. In the on-going negotiations in Geneva, India has put forward some proposals to protect the livelihoods of poorer nations that urge rich members to end their harmful fisheries and farm subsidies. Indian Ministers will ask the DG to ensure that the proposals are given due consideration,” the official said.

Iweala is likely to meet both Goyal, who will represent India at the MC 12, and Sitharaman, who is one of the primary forces in deciding the country’s negotiating position on the key issue of subsidies, during her India visit beginning on October 22. She may also meet some members of the civil society, the official added.

Stark differences exist

Hectic parleys are on at the WTO to bridge differences in the areas of fisheries subsidies and agriculture subsidies so that common landing zones can be reached in time for the MC 12. However, there still exist stark differences in positions held by many developed and developing nations prompting the WTO DG to hold consultations with political leaders in key member countries for a deeper understanding of the situation.

For instance, in the area of fisheries subsidies, India has been seeking carve-outs for developing countries so that they can not only protect interests of artisanal fishers but also not give up policy space for future support programmes. Many developed nations are against extending broad exemptions from subsidy cuts to developing countries.

In the area of domestic farm subsidies, India wants a permanent solution to allow it to provide MSP support to farmers without worrying about ceiling limits being agreed to at MC 12. It also wants developed nations to take on commitments to give up their high entitlements for domestic farm subsidies that only a few rich nations and a couple of developing countries “unfairly” enjoy at the WTO.

“India has always supported the WTO and wants the MC 12 to be a success. But it will not back agreements that would tilt the balance more in favour of developed countries and ignore interests of the poor,” the official said.

The 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO was initially scheduled in June 2020 in Kazakhstan but had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Published on October 17, 2021

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