ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Maturer WTO

The biggest gain for India from the fourth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation that concluded at Doha on November 14 is that a fresh round of trade negotiations has been kicked off. It is also to India’s advantage that the Doha meet has incorporated into the WTO agenda several concerns of developing countries and by doing so promises to take the process of globalisation and global integration ahead. India played a proactive role in the negotiations. Although it could be argued that trade minister Maran and his team displayed more vigour in pushing what have come to be identified as India’s national postures than in correctly identifying what indeed are our national interests, there is no gainsaying that India played an important role in securing a major achievement of the summit – developing country assertion of their interests.

Wrong on WTO

One of the most significant events scheduled to take place at the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation at Doha, Qatar, is the formal entry of China into the trade body, along with a few other nations. China is one of the world’s largest traders, capable of using its enormous imports to exert influence on foreign governments. Such a country has been campaigning hard to find its way into the WTO and has made remarkable concessions to the US and the European Union to obtain their agreement to its inclusion among WTO members. Indian politicians who demand that India should walk out of the WTO if the Doha meet launches a new round of trade talks ignoring India’s opposition to such a move would do well to ponder over the imperatives that drove China to yield the significant concessions that it has, in order to gain membership of the multilateral trade organisation. The simple fact is that multilateral rules, rule making and rule enforcement are of great help to countries that seek to gain from trade. In the absence of such rules and mechanisms to enforce them, countries would have to depend on bilateral deals. Apart from increasing transaction costs, bilateral dealings would also prove more iniquitous for India, whose share in world exports is all of 0.7 per cent, given the great disparity in economic size or trade volumes between India and its major trading partners.

India and the WTO

The consequence of the government's approach to the WTO and to trade negotiations is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our flawed rejectionist approach to negotiations, with the absurd threats to leave, imply that we are unable to address our own immediate trading concerns, and end up with agreements which do not meet our concerns and which we are ill-equipped to implement.

Seattle to Qatar: World Trade Negotiations

The draft Declaration for the WTO's ministerial meeting at Doha reveals some interesting shifts in the positions of important countries which may help to avoid a repetition of the type of fiasco witnessed at Seattle two years ago.

WTO Agriculture Agreement, Common Property Resources and Income Diversification Strategy

In the wake of the dismantling of the quantitative restriction (QR) regimes and the ongoing round of negotiations on the WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), India and other like-minded developing countries have been raising fundamental concerns on the likely adverse impact of the AoA on their food and livelihood security systems. Simultaneously, the government of India has also initiated measures for carefully monitoring and regulating the import liberalisation process ushered in by the Exim policy 2001-02. Based on these developments, this paper advocates rigorous negotiation positions and proactive programmes of development in order to address the pressing problems arising from the AoA. Developing countries, whose agrarian economies are characterised by 'ecosystemic multifunctionality', have the scope for providing income diversification opportunities for the weaker sections of the farming communities through development of common property resources. This then could form the best safety net to contain the fallout of the agri-agreement.

WTO and Viability of Indian Agriculture

The experience of the 1990s clearly demonstrates that far from trade liberalisation dampening the performance of agriculture, the lack of public investment and effort has been responsible for failure to benefit from trade liberalisation by stepping up and diversifying agricultural output in a cost-effective way.

WTO and Asbestos

Recently the WTO Appellate Body upheld the French ban on asbestos on the ground that it was not violative of international trade laws. While advocates of public health have hailed this as a victory, the process itself brings into focus the lack of transparency in the WTO's disputes settlement system.

Multilateral Trade and Dairy Commodity Markets in LDCs

Domestic dairy industry and commodity market of less developed countries (LDCs) is vulnerable to international competition because of the prevalence of heavy subsidies on production and exports of dairy commodities from developed countries. With lower levels of market protection and faster economic liberalisation, the recent Indian experience suggests that liberal import policies can gloom the competitiveness and hence growth prospects of domestic dairy industry. The option is either to push hard for a level playing field using suitable WTO forum or to enhance the domestic industry competitiveness through suitable interventions. The former seems to be more relevant given the WTO anti-dumping and complaint redressal provisions by a cohesive regional approach.

WTO's Emerging Investment Regime

This paper discusses, from a developing country perspective, issues concerning the ongoing review of the Agreement on Trade Related Investment Measures and the move of the industrialised countries to bring the investment issue on the WTO agenda. Bringing an agreement on investment, beyond TRIMs, on the WTO agenda will not be in the interests of the developing countries. A strategy is, therefore, suggested for India and other developing countries to adopt on this issue at the Ministerial Meeting at Doha in November.

Subsidies and Support in Agriculture

The WTO agricultural package on domestic support and export subsidies provides for complex classification of support and subsidies for agriculture, some of which are totally exempt from reduction commitments. This classification favours developed countries, which are able to maintain a high level of support for agriculture. Developing countries should press for combining all forms of support for agriculture and seek reduction in total support in order to attain a level playing field.

TRIPS Review: Basic Rights Must Be Restored

There is broad consensus that TRIPS in its present form is unacceptable because it violates the fundamental rights of people. Civil society organisations across the world are mobilising opinion to intervene in the TRIPS review process. What are the changes must be negotiated during the current review of TRIPS?

WTO Pacts and Food Quality Issues

Trade liberalisation, hoped to be achieved through the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, is expected to lead to export promotion and import substitution for the Indian food sector. However, these opportunities cannot be exploited unless attention is paid to two important WTO agreements - one, on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and two, on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). To maximise the benefit from these agreements, India will have to improve its safety and quality norms and import monitoring mechanisms.

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