Indian interests at the WTO Ministerial Conference

What is the News?

The 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization has agreed to a series of deals relating to the temporary waivers on Covid-19 vaccines, a moratorium on e-commerce trade, food security and setting limits on harmful fishing subsidies.

What is the Ministerial Conference of the WTO?

The Ministerial Conference is the WTO’s top decision-making body and usually meets every two years. 

All members of the WTO are involved in the MC, and they can take decisions on all matters covered under any multilateral trade agreements.

Note: All decisions at the WTO are made collectively and through consensus among member countries at varied councils and committees. 

What are the key takeaways from the 12th Ministerial Conference of WTO?

Global Food Security: Members agreed to exempt food purchased by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) for humanitarian purposes, from any export restrictions. But countries would be allowed to restrict food supplies to ensure domestic food security needs.

– However, negotiators could not reach agreements on issues such as permissible public stockholding threshold for domestic food security, domestic support to agriculture, cotton and market access. 

Curtailing harmful fishing subsidies: WTO members agreed on eliminating subsidies to those engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. 

The only exception for continuing subsidies for an overfished stock is when they are deemed essential to rebuild them to a biologically sustainable level. 

Further, the agreements hold that there would be no limitation on subsidies granted or maintained by developing or least-developed countries for fishing within their exclusive economic zones (EEZ). 

Note: Overfishing refers to exploiting fishes at a pace faster than they could replenish themselves. According to FAO, currently, 34.2% of fisheries are overfished.

Moratorium on Electronic Transmissions: Member countries agreed to extend the current moratorium on not imposing customs duties on electronic transmission (ET) until MC13 — scheduled to take place in December 2023. 

Patent Relaxations: WTO members agreed to temporarily waive intellectual property patents on Covid-19 vaccines without the consent of the patent holder for 5 years so that they can more easily manufacture them domestically.

However, the waiver agreed by the WTO was criticized by advocacy groups for being narrow in scope as it did not cover all medical tools like diagnostics and treatments. 

Source: The post is based on the article “Indian interests at the WTO Ministerial Conference” published in The Hindu on 19th June 2022.

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