WTO members unlikely to resolve key issues at meet | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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WTO members unlikely to resolve key issues at meet

ByRajeev Jayaswal
Mar 02, 2024 08:48 AM IST

Developed nations pushed through big tech’s agenda for perpetuating customs duty waiver, sidestepping the concerns of emerging economies

​New Delhi World Trade Organization (WTO) members were unlikely to resolve major issues at the 13th ministerial conference (MC13) of the body, with developed nations pushing through big tech’s agenda for perpetuating customs duty waiver late on Friday while sidestepping the concerns of emerging economies related to fisheries and public stockholding for food security, three people privy to negotiations at Abu Dhabi said.

While a formal briefing was awaited, it is understood that WTO members have agreed to give one more extension to the moratorium on customs duty. (HT)
While a formal briefing was awaited, it is understood that WTO members have agreed to give one more extension to the moratorium on customs duty. (HT)

The outcome came after what was like a tug-of-war between few multinational giants on the one hand and millions of farmers, fishermen and the poor on the other, they said, requesting anonymity. “While the developed world is trying to maximise profit for their private firms; for developing countries like India, it is matter of subsistence for over 800 million poor, who are getting free food grains every month since pandemic (2020),” one of them said, referring to India’s food security scheme that necessitates public procurement of produce from farmers at government-determined rates.

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WTO, however, justified business interests by quoting director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in a post at X (formally twitter) where she stressed the important role businesses played in supporting a functioning multilateral trading system. “It’s business that does trade. So it’s very important to listen to what they have to say and to try to act on that,” the post said, quoting her statement made during the business forum at MC13 in Abu Dhabi.

India as well as other developing countries such as South Africa and Indonesia were against further extension of customs duty moratorium on e-commerce. The developed countries such as the US and European Union (EU) wanted to perpetuate this privilege they enjoy since 1998, the second person said.

While a formal briefing was awaited, it is understood that WTO members have agreed to give one more extension to the moratorium on customs duty on e-commerce until the 14th session of the Ministerial Conference (MC14). Ministerial Conference, the highest decision-making body, is held every two year.

“WTO members had been extending this moratorium since 1998. The last extension was given in June 2022 at the MC12 (Geneva) until the MC13 or March 31, 2024, whichever was earlier,” the second person quoted earlier said. Developed countries gain billions of dollars by this concession while developing countries lose revenues by allowing them duty-free access, he said, adding that any major deal at MC13 was elusive.

At the time of going to the press, ministers at WTO were gathered in the last heads of delegation meeting to wrap up negotiations before the closing ceremony in the last-ditch effort to end the deadlock.

A third person, a negotiator, said, “Developed countries are unwilling to commit anything related to agriculture and fisheries fearing farmers’ backlash as Europe is swept by farmers’ protests. They can neither accept a permanent solution to PSH (permanent stockholding), nor own up responsibility of overexploiting oceans for decades. But, both the issues are crucial for G-33 and other supporting groups of developing countries.”

About 80 countries — the G33 including India, African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, together called ACP — have asked for a permanent solution to public stockholding for food security, with additional exemptions over the existing peace clause.

Meanwhile, the fifth day also saw Thailand replacing its ambassador to WTO Pimchanok Vonkorpon Pitfield for her contentious allegation that India was exporting rice procured at MSP from its farmers instead of distributing the same to the poor.

“In a close-door meeting on Tuesday, she had alleged that India was indulging in unfair trade by flooding global markets with subsidised rice. Her act was seemingly curated by certain developed countries,” one official present at the MC13 said, also requesting anonymity.

India procures about 40% of the paddy produced by farmers to meet its food security commitments while balance quantity is lifted by private entities to meet domestic needs and to export. India is one of the major rice exporters. Thailand is a member of the Cairns group of 19 agricultural exporting nations lobbying for agricultural trade liberalisation. Its members include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Vietnam.

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