TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar18/10)
15 March 2018
Third World Network

India for political guidance on systemic challenges to MTS
Published in SUNS #8640 dated 13 March 2018

Geneva, 12 Mar (D. Ravi Kanth) - India has called for "political guidance" from trade ministers invited for an informal ministerial summit on 19 March for addressing "systemic challenges, particularly its dispute settlement arm," as well as on negotiating issues that are currently lacking a work program at the World Trade Organization, trade envoys told SUNS.

Ahead of a two-day ministerial summit being hosted by India's trade minister Suresh Prabhu, New Delhi has circulated a "concept note" in an attempt to foster a discussion on several issues.

Around 40 industrialized, developing, and least-developed countries are expected to participate in the two-day meeting.

"There is an urgent need for introspection and political engagement on such matters, which have implications for the continued relevance of the multilateral trading system," India has argued, according to a trade envoy from a developing country, who has reviewed the two-and-half-page concept note.

Against the backdrop of the safeguard duties on steel and aluminium imports, imposed by the US administration on grounds of national security, and which has provoked a backlash in many capitals, India has said it hopes the New Delhi meeting will "lead to political guidance on some of the major issues, both at the negotiating table and also in other areas."

"Finding solutions to some of the contentious issues remains crucial, [and] exploring different pathways that could lead to the solutions is equally important," says India in the note.

"A useful approach," according to India, "could be to put on the table the different options that WTO members may wish to pursue on various issues, along with a careful evaluation of their implications."

Subsequently, "it would be up to the membership to collectively take forward some of the ideas emerging from the meeting in New Delhi," India has argued.

The two-day meeting will start with a dinner for trade ministers only on 19 March for sharing "their ideas that they consider to be critical for reinvigorating the WTO."

On the following day (20 March), the participants are asked to focus on two themes.

Under the theme of "providing political guidance for further work in the WTO," ministers are asked to share their views on the following issue:

* In the absence of Ministerial guidance at MC11, how can we provide political guidance for (a) negotiations in the WTO, especially on issues where there are no work programmes, and (b) systemic issues beyond the ambit of negotiations?

India has also sought views from the participating trade ministers on "the way forward on development," a "horizontal issue" that is being currently perceived to be "a hurdle in many areas of the negotiations."

India wants the participants to spell out "the reasons prompting some Members to question the Special and Differential Treatment Provisions (S&DT) in the ongoing negotiations."

"In the absence of globally applicable criteria for development [for special and differential flexibilities and countries that are eligible to avail of it]", India is asking the participants to suggest "a suitable framework for assessing the S&DT requirements of a country."

Effectively, India is asking the proponents of "differentiation" such as the United States, the European Union, Japan, Canada, and other industrialized countries to spell out their views as to why all developing countries, particularly China, India, and Brazil among others, cannot avail of S&DT flexibilities without any differentiation.

The concept note has remained vague on two aspects, said a developing country trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.

Given the failure to agree on a work program at Buenos Aires in December 2017, it is not clear whether India is asking trade ministers to spell out their views on the Doha Development Agenda issues on which there were no work programs or on the plurilateral initiatives on which there was no multilateral consensus, the envoy said.

"Of course, nobody can stop if a participant choses to raise new issues such as electronic commerce, investment facilitation, and disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs)," the trade envoy said.

More important, India's formulation on "development" seems to be a follow-up to the discussion raised by the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, in Buenos Aires.

While major developing countries - India, China, and South Africa among others - categorically opposed "differentiation" during the discussion, it is not clear whether India should open this issue for a debate all over again, said another trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.

The developing countries, according to the envoy, are asking for development for rectifying the inherent and inbuilt "imbalances" and "asymmetries" in the Uruguay Round commitments that are hampering development in developing countries.

By posing the issue concerning the special and differential flexibilities, India is merely straying into their [the industrialized countries'] territory, the envoy said.

The 2008 revised draft negotiating modalities on agriculture clearly suggested the level of commitments with flexibilities for both developed and developing countries, the envoy suggested. But the US is not willing to accept those well-defined flexibilities.