WTO seals deal on fishery sops, IP waiver on Covid vax, food security

Amiti Sen | Updated on: Jun 17, 2022
Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal congratulates WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala after the closing session of the 12th Ministerial Conference at the WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal congratulates WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala after the closing session of the 12th Ministerial Conference at the WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland | Photo Credit: POOL

Experts divided: Some say India gave away too much, others call it a good deal

The World Trade Organization (WTO) managed to seal a trade deal at the 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva in the wee hours of Friday morning, seven years after a deal was last reached at the Nairobi Ministerial in 2015.

India and some other developing countries got no commitments in the areas of the long-sought permanent solution for public stockholding and exports from public stocks. Further, there is no assurance on allowing a waiver on therapeutics and diagnostics that India, South Africa and several other developing nations were strongly pushing while the IPR relief on vaccines is limited to patents.

‘Lowered ambition’

Some trade experts believe that “India gave away too much” by way of the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce up to March 31, 2024, and an exemption from export restrictions for WFP sourcing of food grains. “India lowered its ambition drastically in the final stage. It settled for temporary reprieve from disciplines up to EEZ for subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, until a new agreement is negotiated. But in the process, it left developed countries off the hook. At the same time, India accepted the e-commerce moratorium, a weak TRIPS waiver, a damaging WTO response to the Covid-19 pandemic and preparedness for future pandemics, and a useless food security declaration,” said Ranja Sengupta from the Third World Network.

Other say it was the “best deal possible for India” and important gains were made, especially in fisheries and TRIPS waiver.

Levelling field

In the fisheries subsidies agreement, New Delhi managed to protect subsidies given to its fishers within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles. However, this was also extended to rich nations. “One has actually levelled the field. The big and small will fish in the same waters. What handholding you were expecting to make your fishers more competitive is now gone,” pointed out Biswajit Dhar, Professor, JNU. Moreover, in four years’ time, there could be re-negotiations.

R Gopalan, former Secretary in the Department of Financial Services, said India did “extremely well” in the fisheries negotiations by protecting subsidies in the EEZs. “In our EEZs, we have ensured that our rights are not curbed. Other countries like Spain, wanted EEZ to be separated, but we didn’t let that happen,” he said. He explained that Spain and some other countries engaged in a lot of long distance fishing for fish such as Tuna while India was very competitive in fishing within the EEZ.

TRIPS waiver

In the area of intellectual property, the TRIPS waiver is limited to only vaccines, while India, South Africa and the over 60 countries supporting them had been insisting that it was also needed on therapeutics and diagnostics. “In fact, in his intervention at the MC 12 on June 13, Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had emphasised that while vaccines were preventive, there was a  need to ramp up manufacture of therapeutics and diagnostics to achieve a comprehensive test and treat strategy. The agreement will not be of much use to India in its current form as there is no imperative on rich nations to give a waiver on therapeutics and diagnostics in the specified six months,” another Delhi-based expert pointed out. 

Gopalan said the waiver on vaccines was beneficial for other developing countries who India has been fighting for and was also in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on the Quad initiative on vaccines.

Published on June 17, 2022
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