The 13th WTO Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi collapsed in the late hours of March 1, more than a day after its scheduled closure, failing to produce an agreement in either fisheries or agriculture. But, countries agreed to extend the e-commerce moratorium on customs duties for two years for one last time.

Also read: WTO MC13: Members continue to bicker over agriculture, fish subsidies, and e-comm taxes

Commerce & Industry Minister, Piyush Goyal said that India was satisfied with the results as it had retained its policy space to protect farmers and fishers.

The unfinished agenda of WTO MC13 is now likely to be worked upon in regular meetings of various committees at the WTO Secretariat in Geneva and then taken forward at MC14 in Cameroon in two years’ time.

India was not able to secure a permanent solution to the problem of public stockholding for food security, but it put up a spirited fight and managed to stop other issues, such as domestic subsidy and market access in agriculture, to be back on the negotiating table with time-lines.

With the collapse of fisheries negotiations, Indian fishers retained their subsidies as no obligations were taken on cuts, but so did many rich nations and China, with large scale distant water fishing fleets, who are mainly responsible for the depletion of fish stock.

A definite win for India was the defeat of attempts made by several members to get the China-led Investment Facilitation for Development pact, between 130 countries, to enter the WTO framework formally as a plurilateral agreement.

“By and large, the objectives with which we had come to Abu Dhabi are largely met and we go back fully satisfied.Our largest interest was to protect our farmers and our fishermen, both of which we are strongly doing and that is our offensive interest which we are actively pursuing,” Goyal said after the conference.

The two-year renewal of moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce, to expire at the next Ministerial Conference set for Cameroon, could be seen as a set-back for India, as it was pushing vigorously for ending it, as it resulted in revenue losses and its scope was not defined. But, Goyal said India was not necessarily fully opposed to it (the extension of the moratorium).

While the decision to end the moratorium in the next Ministerial Conference is a good one, there is a possibility that developed countries may want to extend it even then and developing nations needed to prevent that, said Sofia Scasserra, Associated Researcher, Transnational Institute.

“Once again, the moratorium is renewed, preventing developing countries from discussing their convenience in the digital industrialisation program they want to develop. It is really a pity that a new opportunity has been lost to open the door to discuss how to achieve more diverse technologies in a technological world monopolised by a handful of corporations. This time more countries opposed, let’s hope that the opposition continues to grow in the face of MC14,” Scasserra said.

The inability of India and about 80 other developing countries to secure a permanent solution to the problem of PSH for food security to fully protect its MSP programmes and secure the right to extend it to new programmes as well was a loss for the development agenda.

India has a peace clause, that many developing nations secured at the Bali Conference of 2013, protecting it against legal action in case its subsidies over shot the cap of 10 per cent, but it is riddled with many onerous conditions and limited to programmes existing prior to 2013.

Decisions on Special Safeguard Measures (SSMs) to protect poor farmers against import surges and the paring of cotton subsidies, were, also, of course, not delivered. “Agriculture negotiations on public stock holdings at MC13 ended up unsuccessful. These negotiations happen at a moment of huge turmoil in agriculture where farmers protest in India and in Europe, asking for more policy space. Once again, the WTO has shown its inability to answer farmers’ demands from the Global South. From a food security perspective, this is dramatic because it leaves millions of farmers without prospects for improving their livelihoods,” said Jonas Jaccard, Policy Officer, Humundi, Belgium.

Also read: India wants ‘re-examination’ of need to extend e-commerce moratorium at WTO MC13

Negotiators this week had an opportunity to make meaningful cuts to subsidies for large-scale distant water fishing fleets, yet the big fishing nations refused to accept any responsibility to take meaningful cuts, said Adam Wolfenden, Deputy Coordinator, Pacific Network on Globalisation. The proposed text was toothless and was right to be rejected, he added.