India to Expedite WTO Talks on Food, Services
New Delhi: India will send an expert team to Geneva in March to expedite negotiations on food security and a global agreement on services at the World Trade Organization (WTO) before its ministerial meeting in Argentina in December.
India is unwilling to bend or yield on WTO’s demand for a discussion on food security, commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman said after meeting WTO director general Roberto Azevedo on Thursday. “We will send a team to Geneva to talk on details…We will not start from zero,” the minister said, referring to the G-33 proposal that seeks to amend WTO rules on agriculture.
The proposal suggests food procurement from farmers to feed the poor under a subsidy fixed at10%, and also uses an old methodology for subsidy calculation that does not account for inflation and is based on a price index of 1986-88.
Earlier in the day, Azevedo said convergence on food security cannot be reached without a revision in the proposal.
The team from India will also help prepare the country for the crucial ministerial in Argentina so that enough discussions happen before any agenda is decided upon by the members.
India doesn’t want a situation where there is no progress on the issues it finds important before the ministerial.
Azevedo had called the Nairobi ministerial a “disaster” where countries “felt comfortable in not having a decision.”
In Nairobi, developed countries were successful in clinching the deal away from India by allowing new issues to be taken up in the WTO’s mandate. Developed countries, including the US, have been pushing for cooperation, information exchange and capacity building for small and medium enterprises and fisheries also. Sitharaman said e-commerce was not on the agenda for India because there was not much understanding on the issue. “It’s not proper for us to define and regulate it,” she said.
At present, there are 11 papers on e-commerce in WTO which are at early stages but Azevedo said he was not optimistic of solving issues like data localisation and data flows at the ministerial.
“No one has talked of market access or ecommerce market access for goods. There’s very basic conversation on consumer protection, harmonisation and e-signatures,” he said. He met tech and e-commerce companies on Wednesday at an event organised by International Chamber of Commerce. He said that though there was interest in the issue, no consensus had been reached on how to move forward. WTO chief Azevedo meanwhile lauded India’s demonetisation drive and said reforms, including those on taxation and ease of doing business, will ensure India’s growth and foreign investment as they are being recognised all over the world.
“India is carrying out a wide range of reforms to improve and strengthen institutions,” he said.