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India’s Stand WTO Meeting at Nairobi

The tenth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference meeting was held in Nairobi, Kenya from December, 15th to 18th 2015. The WTO is an international intergovernmental organization dealing with the formulation and implementation of international trade rules. It also deals with the arbitration of trade disputes between its member countries.

The WTO conducts its business through the Ministerial Conference, which is the highest decision making body of the organization.

This Conference is held every two years and this time India was represented by the Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

There are many differences at the WTO negotiations between developing and developed countries. While, the developed countries wants to frame its own rules, over riding the interests of the developing countries. The developing countries has drawn its own redlines on them and are fighting for a world trade order that is 'just.'

India represents the aspirations of the developing countries and the least developed countries at the WTO negotiations. So far it has made a spirited defence for its case, but tere are critics' who claim that India came back "empty handed" from the WTO talks at Nairobi.

This was refuted by the Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who asserted that India’s stand was "reinforced” at the WTO conference at Nairobi.

The Minister said that the government has not bowed before anyone's pressure rather it ensured protection of farmers' interests with the reaffirmation of Bali and the General Council meeting of November 2014.

She further said, India sought and succeeded in obtaining a re-affirmative ministerial decision on public stockholding for food security purposes thus honouring both Bali and General Council decisions.

The Minister added that "India cannot be pulled to any WTO court" as some apprehend because a larger coalition of nation concur with India’s stand and this was seen at the Nairobi talks.

The Nairobi Ministerial Declaration acknowledges that though members have different views to address the future of the Doha Round negotiations but there are unanimity and strong commitment amongst them to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues.

It is in this context Commerce Minister said that a few developed countries including the US are opposed to the continuation of the Doha Round of negotiations but India negotiated hard to ensure that the WTO continues to place the interest of developing countries and LDCs at the centre of its agenda as envisaged at Doha talks.

At Nairobi India negotiated a ministerial decision which recognises that developing countries will have the right to have recourse to a Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) as envisaged in the mandate. This was because a large group of developing countries has been seeking SSM for agriculture products in future discussions.

The Minister said, India ensured that Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) for agriculture products was taken up for negotiation and a ministerial committee recommended giving right to developing countries for protection from import surges. However, as it as agreed in Bali that a permanent solution to it would be given by 2017.

On export subsidy, the Minister said, India was able to prevail on the developed countries that have agreed to withdraw all subsidies for export promotion. This is a major victory, as henceforth this would result in India competing in international market.

The Minister said that the interest of Indian fishermen was also protected at Nairobi as India did not entertain the idea of a WTO committee coming and inspecting its fisheries.

Even though, the Minister has tried to convince that India had a stealer role to play at Nairobi, sceptics points that India’s view points were not considered and the WTO declaration was disappointing.

The critiques argue that India lost its relative pre-eminence position among emerging market economies and could not hold the ground on the principled position by sticking to the Doha development agenda.

The lack of an unambiguous reaffirmation of the Doha negotiations means new issues of interest to developed countries. This includes competition policy; government procurement and investment that are all now open for negotiations.

Further, there is no concrete agreement on a special safeguards mechanism to protect farmers of the developing countries against sudden import surges and there is no short deadline for a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security purposes.

After looking at both sides of the arguments it can be ascertained that India was not fully prepared to defend its strategic aims at the Nairobi WTO talks due to lack of s clear-cut strategy.

The lessons for the future WTO negotiation is that the government must broaden its preparation much ahead of the next talk by holding wide-ranging meetings with all stakeholders on WTO-related issues.

Secondly India must do is to strength its pool of trade negotiators and pick the best and brightest trade experts and lawyers for the next round of talks.

Third, India should to protect the development agenda and for this it has to first strengthen its ties with the developing and LDC economies and then make a collective pitch at the WTO negotiations.

As such the future negotiation should be more calibrated, sharpened and nuanced. In its absence, the price that India may pay will be far higher than what the current government is willing to acknowledge.

Syed Ali Mujtaba