Business Standard

Difference­s remain amid some headway at WTO MC13

Issues like subsidies, public stockholdi­ng for food security persist


Notwithsta­nding intense negotiatio­ns lasting over five days, the 13th Ministeria­l Conference (MC13) of the World Trade Organizati­on (WTO) ended in a status quo. No consensus was reached on most key issues, leading to no visible outcomes.

Divergence­s in positions persisted on crucial matters such as curbing subsidies contributi­ng to overcapaci­ty and overfishin­g, and public stockholdi­ng for food security — a foremost priority for India.

While MC13 saw no specific outcomes, countries resolved to establish a fully functionin­g dispute settlement system accessible to all members by the end of 2024.

Even without a resolution on India’s primary demand regarding grain stockholdi­ng, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal expressed satisfacti­on, emphasisin­g that India has retained full policy space for the benefit of its farmers.

Business Standard examines the outcomes of MC13, highlighti­ng key hits and misses for India.

AGRICULTUR­E What India wanted

India, along with other developing countries, sought a ‘permanent solution’ to the public stockholdi­ng issue — a policy tool used by government­s for procuring, stockpilin­g, and distributi­ng food for domestic food security. This was India’s foremost priority in agricultur­e.


No agreement was reached on agricultur­e due to difference­s among countries. Developed nations, such as the European Union, argued that public stockholdi­ng programmes, if implemente­d as support to producers’ prices, could impact the food security of other countries.

What it means for India

India faces no immediate threat due to the ‘peace clause’, offering a shield to developing countries from legal challenges over subsidies or free distributi­on of grains to the poor. Jonas Jaccard, policy officer of the Belgian non-government­al organisati­on Humundi, noted that the WTO’S inability to address farmer demands from the Global South is concerning for food security. “This is dramatic because it leaves millions of farmers without the prospects of improving their livelihood,” Jaccard said.


India acknowledg­ed the negative impact of subsidies on the fisheries sector, emphasisin­g the need to curb harmful subsidies for countries engaged in distant water fishing. However, such payouts are crucial for developing countries and small economies to safeguard the food security and livelihood­s of fishermen, particular­ly those fishing up to 200 nautical miles beyond territoria­l waters.


Member nations failed to produce an outcome document, and the ministeria­l declaratio­n did not mention fisheries subsidies.

What it means for India

India retains full policy space for the benefit of its farmers, with no immediate threat. Olencio Simoes, general-secretary of the National Fishworker­s’ Forum India, highlighte­d that these negotiatio­ns consistent­ly pose a threat to the livelihood­s of small-scale fishers.

“While there had been some improvemen­ts to protect artisanal fishers from the prohibitio­ns in this text, they weren’t enough to justify a deal,” Simoes said.

E-COMMERCE What India wanted

India opposed the continued exemption of Customs duties on e-commerce or electronic transmissi­on, arguing that the moratorium adversely affected revenue collection­s. India also wanted an assessment of the moratorium’s scope and its impact on other countries.


WTO nations agreed to maintain the current practice of not imposing Customs duties on electronic transmissi­ons until the next ministeria­l conference or March 31, 2026, whichever is earlier.

What it means for India

Parminder Jeet Singh, coordinato­r, Just Net Coalition, Global/india, expressed disappoint­ment, stating that the extension of tax breaks for Big Tech denies much-needed tax revenue for developing countries.

“This not only denies the much-needed tax revenue for developing countries but also curtails their policy space for undertakin­g their urgently required digital industrial­isation, if they are to escape digital colonisati­on,” Singh said.



MC13 also addressed various plurilater­al agreement pacts, such as domestic services regulation, and non-trade issues such as investment facilitati­on.

An agreement on services domestic regulation, supported by 72 WTO members, was adopted. However, a similar pact led by China — Investment Promotion for Developmen­t — was blocked by India and South Africa, despite having the backing of more than 120 countries. India, in principle, has been against plurilater­al pacts on platforms like the WTO, fearing a dilution of its multilater­al trade framework. Ajay Srivastava, former trade ministry official and founder of the Delhi-based think tank Global Trade Research Initiative, raised concerns about new issues like ecommerce, investment, and micro, small and medium enterprise­s quietly entering the WTO agenda through joint statement initiative­s by some countries.

 ?? ?? Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal emphasised that India has retained full policy space for the benefit of its farmers
Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal emphasised that India has retained full policy space for the benefit of its farmers
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India