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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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. +