All eyes on India at the next WTO meeting in Geneva; What’s on the agenda

As the World Trade Organization (WTO) prepares to hold its 12th ministerial conference in Geneva, all eyes are on India, which seeks to resolve a series of critical issues such as special and differential treatment of countries in development, patent exemption for COVID-19 vaccines and public procurement for food safety.

What does the WTO meeting consist of?

The WTO will hold its 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva from November 30 to December 3. The conference was originally scheduled to be hosted by Kazakhstan in June 2020, but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO which sets the rules for trade around the world. The meeting will bring together trade ministers and senior officials from 164 member countries.

While the summit is held once every two years, the next summit is of particular significance as it is being held for the first time since 2017.

Surrender of patent

One of the priority areas that India will fight for is the temporary waiver of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to achieve equitable access to vaccines.

India and South Africa had proposed in October 2020 a waiver of intellectual property rights for vaccine manufacturers. The proposal had received the support of 100 nations. However, countries like Switzerland, Norway and the UK opposed it.

“Since all WTO decisions must be unanimous, there is nothing that can be done, even if one nation is unwilling,” a senior trade negotiator told Moneycontrol.

Public storage for food safety

India will seek a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security at the 12th WTO Ministerial.

India, along with other developing countries, has a number of public storage programs to purchase, store and distribute food grains.

Some countries argue that stockpiling programs distort trade when the government buys stocks from farmers at fixed prices, such as India’s Minimum Support Price (MSP) program.

According to WTO trade standards, a member country’s food subsidy bill should not exceed the limit of 10 percent of the value of food grain production based on the 1986-88 benchmark price. However, India had called for changes in the ceiling on food subsidies, as full implementation of its food security program is likely to exceed the ceiling.

In 2013, WTO members entered into a “peace clause” which allowed India’s food security agenda to be implemented until a permanent solution was found. This allows India to procure and store food grains for the poor beyond the 10 percent subsidy ceiling without being penalized by the WTO.

Even as developed countries dispute India’s continuation of subsidies, India is seeking to enshrine the “peace clause” in the deal forever.

“India and the G-33 (group of nations) are committed to finding a permanent solution to the problem of public stock ownership,” an official told Business Standard.

Special and differential treatment

India will seek to preserve the special and differential treatment (S&D) granted to developing countries at the Geneva meeting, a government official said on November 25.

“Special and differential treatment is a fundamental principle that must be retained. At the same time, we must maintain the political space that developing countries need … that India as a developing country needs,” said Shyamal Misra, deputy secretary at the Ministry of Commerce. at an issues event ahead of the 12th WTO Ministerial.

The SDT provisions in the WTO agreements give developing countries special advantages, such as taking more time to implement the agreements.

India believes that developed countries are pushing for reforms that could end up diluting the S&DT provision for developing countries.

India’s position on SDT can be seen in its position on WTO subsidies to the fisheries sector.

India is seeking more policy space to develop the fisheries sector and a longer transition period to phase out subsidies.

Agricultural subsidies

Developed countries at the WTO want countries like India to cap farmers’ PSM and limit input subsidies on seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. These standards are skewed against developing countries like India, which have a huge population of poor farmers.

According to the WTO, the de minimis level or the minimum amount of support allowed for developing countries is 10 percent of the value of production and 5 percent for developed countries.

(Edited by : Shoma bhattacharjee)

First publication: STI

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