TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul17/16)
24 July 2017
Third World Network

India optimistic over course-correction for Buenos Aires MC11
Published in SUNS #8507 dated 21 July 2017

Geneva, 20 Jul (D. Ravi Kanth) -- The Indian commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday (19 July) expressed "optimism" about finalizing two-thirds of the work on the proposed deliverables for the World Trade Organization's eleventh ministerial meeting by the time when an informal trade ministerial summit takes place in Marrakech by mid-October.

Work on the mandated issues - the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, the package of market access concessions for the least-developed countries, and cotton among others - must be concluded before the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires in December, Sitharaman told the SUNS on 19 July.

After her meeting with the World Trade Organization director-general Roberto Azevedo and the chairs for different Doha negotiating bodies and the deputy directors-general and the directors at the WTO on Tuesday (18 July), Sitharaman said "it is her impression that there is a course-correction" in ensuring a transparent and member-driven process to finalize the outcomes for the Buenos Aires meeting.

Sitharaman also met with the coordinators of the African Group, the least-developed countries, and the ACP (Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific) group at the South Centre on Wednesday.

Later, she met with the trade envoys of the Breakfast group that includes trade envoys of the European Union, China, the United States, Canada, Norway, South Africa, and the chairs for some of the Doha negotiating bodies.

She said that she is "optimistic" that the Nairobi ministerial process - which was mired in controversies over its "non-transparent" process, and non-inclusion of a large majority of members (in the decision-making) for the final outcomes at the WTO's tenth ministerial conference - will not be repeated again.

As regards her overall impressions of the meetings she held during her first visit to Geneva as India's trade policy chief, Sitharaman said "the [recent] elections in two or three countries has made people to sit up and think about what we i. e., the developing countries had said all these years."

Despite growing asymmetries and inequitable sharing of benefits between the developed countries on the one side, and the developing countries on the other, "we [developing countries] did not say take these developed countries to task," she said.

"We called for a dialogue [that finally came in the form of Doha Development Agenda trade negotiations] based on fair and equitable sharing of benefits," Sitharaman argued.

"That globalization is not probably giving evenly distributed benefits to countries is what we said all these years and today, they (the industrialized countries) have realized that argument is applicable to them also," she maintained.

"That is why they have come up with - not supportive of Doha but the spirit with which we want to continue Doha - and now I see they are also supportive of that spirit," she maintained.

"They acknowledged that extreme globalization or virulent globalization is not giving evenly disbursed benefits and income disparities are widening," the Indian minister maintained.

"Clearly, these developments are causing problems and it is that hyper globalization which they are now sitting back thinking as to how to contain it and how to derive such equitable principles and they are now talking on those issues which we spoke of all these years," the Indian minister argued.

Asked to comment on the China-India proposal on 18 July to eliminate the Aggregate Measurement of Support (Amber Box subsidies) provided by developed countries as a prerequisite for discussing issues in the domestic support before the Buenos Aires meeting, she said "I want to say two things towards this ministerial in Buenos Aires."

"As things stand today," she said, "the impression I get is that lessons are learnt from the Nairobi ministerial meeting."

She said: "And those lessons are (1) the processes which have to be activated before the ministerial and leading to the ministerial and placing the ministerial declaration for ministers to consider it and agreeing it.

"That process has not worked before the Nairobi meeting and it has now been corrected as things stand between now and Buenos Aires meeting.

"As a first step towards the corrective process, we would have the mini-ministerial meeting in Marrakech sometime in late September or October.

"Second a course correction is put in place now.

"How I'm optimistic about that: Course correction is happening and the Marrakesh (meeting) is the first outcome of the course correction and yesterday (after meeting the director-general and the chairs for Doha negotiations) I got the impression that they are scheduling working group meetings on each outstanding issue.

"Hopefully three quarters work will be done before Marrakech - which, in itself, gives me the feeling of the larger lesson that Nairobi could not be an effective meeting for want of preparation. And it has now been corrected.

"Further, I don't think it is proper to spread the net thinly for deliverables at the Buenos Aires ministerial meeting and I think it is important to take the ministerial mandates seriously.

"I think and expect that meetings will happen on mandated items and if mandated items are going to be worked out in great detail and enabling activities like India-China paper, the EU paper, all of them will be taken seriously.

"In post-August vacations, detailed work is going to happen on the mandated issues and focus will be on them instead of spreading the WTO resources thin. I would think that three quarters of work on mandated issues ought to be completed by the Marrakesh meeting."

As regards new issues - rules for electronic commerce, disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises, and investment facilitation, Sitharaman said "I already spoke about them [at the Graduate Institute on Tuesday, 18 July].

"On the new issues," she said, "there is an interest on some of the new issues in which e-commerce is topping the list. Clearly, there are divergent views on e-commerce as is the case with every issue at the WTO."

"But everybody is prepared for a logical connect or a logical disconnect and people are willing to look at issues that would take them without a disconnect in logical thinking," she argued.

"You have to be cautious about issues concerning small and medium enterprises as there are issues of access to capital and technological access involved and they must be addressed," she said.

"We are now talking about a tangerine, a nice well grown fruit and opening up segments of it. Everybody knows that all put together is going to make the fruit nice but you can't say this segment is fine and that segment is not fine," Sitharaman maintained.

"There cannot be any cherry-picking on issues and things must grow through rigorous logical process," she emphasized.

Asked what she would do if mandated issues are not adequately addressed while new issues are taken up at the Buenos Aires meeting, she said that "one thing that came out clearly is that if we are looking at lessons learnt from Nairobi then you are not going to waste the opportunity in Buenos Aires."

"Why I'm using this expression - this is the time when globally plurilateralism has not helped, bilateralism can continue but what has got to be reclaiming its place is multilateralism," she remarked.

"And if Nairobi failed, allowing for whatever reasons BA to fail, then we have not done our bit to keep multilateralism alive," she cautioned.

Asked to comment on the recent US Special 301 report in which India is included as a priority country on the watchlist as well as media reports that India gave an assurance to the US business lobbies that it will not use compulsory license provisions on commercial and public health grounds, Sitharaman came down heavily on the US 301 report.

She said: "First of all I'm not repeating a jaded line, but what is Special 301- it is a unilateral action and if I can say it is crowbar, in putting somebody's nose into a third country's policy and if I'm putting a finger into it and saying that nobody has a right to look into somebody's policy area.

"The Special 301 is completely unilateral business of one country and trying to look into another's policy, judge it, analyse it and then say we are going to put you into a box and then say beware.

"We reject this automatically and totally. I have been saying this since I have been the minister and not anything that I have done since the last three years gives a contrary view. I have not yielded to anything that the US would do something on the IPR front.

"So 301 is something that we reject completely and it is a unilateral business which we don't accept.

"On compulsory licences, from the beginning of forming my IPR policy from the middle of 2014 or December, we made it absolutely plain that it is in the public domain and anybody can comment on it. After that several delegations met me and said you are doing this and what is this.

"I told them that you are welcome to talk to the think tank which has been appointed. They have participated in it and the US has been actively engaging on this. Now to say that your IPR policy is this or that just doesn't hold water. And on compulsory licenses, I can say that India has not given any assurance to anybody."

In short, the Indian commerce minister issued a strong and upbeat message that there is a course-correction happening at the WTO to ensure credible outcomes at Buenos Aires. The next few months will indicate whether her optimism is justified or misplaced. +