The WTO restores faith in convergence of views

News: The WTO deal in Geneva confirms that it is still possible for the world’s countries to achieve a modest consensus. India has played a worthy role, even if its gains are far from dramatic.

What were the difficult circumstances prevailing before the WTO’s 12th ministerial?

That a deal went through was victory in itself. Ahead of its 12th ministerial conference, the World Trade Organization (WTO) was up against stiff odds.

There was a question mark on its credibility as an arbiter of trade disputes

Ukraine war was making the idea of each country for itself seem like the operative reality after basic principles of trade fell victim to Cold War II.

What is the significance of the deal?

Considering the tough circumstances before the ministerial, the expectations of any tangible outcome were dim.

Yet, 164 countries were nudged towards consensus, and the WTO managed to forge a package of pacts—the first such in nine years—on food security, fishing subsidies and a vaccine patent waiver.

As an assertive voice at the table, India played a significant role in the last of these.

WTO curbs on fishing subsidies are only the second multilateral agreement on global trade rules struck in its 27-year history. Since even a single vote of dissent can spoil a deal, this was impressive.

What are the key constituents of the deal?

Fishing subsidies

The inclusion in trade talks of ecological concerns like the threat posed by large-scale overfishing to marine life had once raised eyebrows, but the deal confirmed acceptance of it.

India’s stance: In contrast with the state-supported fishing industries of rich nations, India’s 9 million odd fisherfolk cannot be accused of global fish stock depletion.

Under the Geneva deal, India’s subsidy support for fishing at current levels can carry on for at least four years;

a proposed ban on subsidized overfishing was dropped.

On food security

Another clutch of Indian demands on food, including the right to mop up foodgrain to feed the needy, has been pushed forth to the next ministerial meeting.

Patent waiver

India’s most noteworthy win was on a proposal it had pushed along with South Africa – A patent waiver window of five years to make and export covid vaccines.

– Significance: This is rather late in the day, and may not do much to fix vaccine inequity, and leaves therapeutic and diagnostic stuff for later talks. Still, it also signifies a WTO dilution of its position that any easing of intellectual property protection would hurt pharma incentives for innovation.

Way forward

None of the mini deals struck qualify as big fillips for international trade. But in a fractured world faced with huge challenges of cooperation, the deal has opened up paths of possibility.

Source: This post is based on the article “The WTO restores faith in convergence of views” published in Livemint on 19th June 22.

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