From the Viewsroom

Hoping for a fairer deal

Amiti Sen | Updated on March 04, 2021

A Nigerian heading the WTO has raised the developing world’s hopes

India’s Permanent Representative to the WTO Brajendra Navnit made an interesting comment at the multilateral body’s General Council meeting last month where Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was elected as the Director General by consensus. He cited Mahatma Gandhi’s talisman exhorting people who are in doubt to think whether the action they are contemplating would help the poor and urged the new DG to apply this test whenever she was seized by doubt over crucial issues. Having launched his first ‘Satyagraha’ there, Gandhiji’s connection with Africa is well known, but Navnit’s reference may have a deeper meaning.

The way negotiations are moving in various areas of the WTO, be it fisheries, agriculture or e-commerce, it seems that the developed world is systemically trying to forget that developing countries are entitled to special treatment at the body and the interests of the poor have to be primarily protected.

The fact that the Doha Round, launched almost two decades back, was a development round meant to benefit poorer countries more seems to be completely lost. Developing nations like India now find themselves having to fight tooth and nail to get their right of special and differential treatment to protect their poor, who run the risk of being stripped of the basic subsidies they get to eke out a living.

A novel attempt made by South Africa and India to ensure availability of crucial medicines and vaccines to fight the Covid-19 pandemic globally by temporarily waiving some TRIPS obligations, too, is being resisted by the EU, the US, Switzerland and Japan, despite the wholehearted support from the developing world. Okonjo-Iweala, in her role as the WTO DG, may not have a direct bearing on decisions taken but, like some strong DGs in the past, she could certainly play a crucial part in decision making through her role as an influencer. Apart from hailing from an African country, the DG is also a development economist who is keenly aware of how mindless liberalsiation can hurt the poor. Although it is too early to see which way the ball would roll in the coming days, Navnit did well in reminding her where her priorities should be.

Published on March 04, 2021

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