WTO dispute on ICT products: India claims EU, Taiwan violating due procedures on dispute panellists

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on August 30, 2020

EU argued that the complaining members were entitled to ask the DG to compose the panels since they respected the minimum 20-day period for seeking an agreement with India

India has complained to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the European Union (EU) and Chinese Taipei for “rushing forward” to ensure the appointment of panellists in their two disputes on high-tech products such as mobile phones instead of sorting it out through mutual discussions, a Geneva-based trade official said.

“At a recent meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body of the WTO, New Delhi criticised the EU and Chinese Taipei for trying to rope in the WTO Director General for appointment of panellists in the two specified cases. It said that the DG should be called in only when the parties involved in the dispute failed to reach an agreement on the panellists,” the official told BusinessLine.

Both the EU and Chinese Taipei, however, maintained that they were within their rights to ask the WTO Director General to compose a panel 20 days after requesting for one.

The DSB had agreed to set up the dispute panels requested by the EU and Chinese Taipei against the import duties imposed by India on certain high-tech goods, such as cell phones, base stations, cameras, machines for the reception, conversion and transmission or regeneration of voice, images or other data, headphones, earphones etc, over the last couple of years.

History of the dispute

India levied customs duty on mobile phones and some other ICT items at 10 per cent for the first time in July 2017 and subsequently raised it to 15 per cent and then 20 per cent in a bid to encourage local production. While the complainants say that the duties violate India’s commitments under the IT Agreement-1, signed in December 1996, India argues that the items were not included in the pact.

Now that the requests for dispute panels against India’s tariffs have been granted by the DSB, there should be an agreement of the parties to the selection of panellists as it was an entrenched principle aimed at securing the legitimacy of panels, India pointed out.

“India further said that the undue hurry to ensure the panellists are appointed seemed to be linked to the fact that the current Director General would leave his post on August 31,” the official said. Ideally, the WTO secretariat should have proposed nominations for the panel to the parties for their consideration and its failure to do so was unacceptable, India added.

Request for a panel

In response, the EU argued that the complaining members were entitled to ask the WTO DG to compose the panels since they respected the minimum 20-day period for seeking an agreement with India on the panellists before making their requests. The exercise of this right is not conditional on the WTO secretariat proposing first a slate of names, it added. Chinese Taipei echoed the point made by the EU and said that it was within its right to request the DG to compose the panel, having respected the minimum 20-day delay, the official said.

Apart from the EU and Chinese Taipei, Japan, too, had requested for a panel to look into India’s duties on hi-tech products which was subsequently approved by the DSB.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo is set to retire on August 31. No interim-WTO DG could be appointed to take charge till the process of selecting a new one was complete, and it is likely that the WTO will remain without a head till at least November 2020.

Published on August 30, 2020

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