WTO member nations sign historic pact; win-win for India

Principal stakeholders who have benefited from “historic decisions” taken at the Geneva conference are fishermen, farmers, food security, multilateralism and trade and business, particularly digital economy and MSMEs

Piyush Goyal
Union commerce minister Piyush Goyal played a key role in tilting the negotiations in India's favour, say sources.

After two nights of intense negotiations in Geneva, the 164 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Friday (June 17) declared agreements on several contentious packages, including steps to check harmful fishing subsidies.

After a gap of about nine years, the WTO members reached a pact — fisheries subsidies agreement.

The four-day talks which began on June 12 concluded early Friday. It was in 2013 at the Bali ministerial conference of the WTO, the member countries inked the trade facilitation agreement to promote seamless movement of goods across the global borders.

The pacts signed at the 12th ministerial conference of the WTO in Geneva are among the first set of major agreements signed in nine years.

As per the agreement, India has the right to give subsidies to its fishermen. In lieu, India has agreed on a one-and-a-half-year extension of the moratorium on customs duty on electronic imports which, India says, works in the favour of developed countries.

However, US approval is awaited on an important issue related to patent waiver on COVID-19 vaccines. Sources say the Biden administration is likely to officially announce the support soon.

The WTO deal was signed despite several disagreements on fisheries and TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver.

It is for the first time subsides on overfishing, deep sea fishing and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing have been addressed through the pact.

“In India’s instance, sovereign sights on EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zones) have been firmly established. It is really a big achievement,” a source said, adding that principal stakeholders who have benefited from these “historic decisions” taken by the 12th ministerial conference of the WTO are fishermen, farmers, food security, multilateralism, and trade and business, particularly digital economy and MSMEs.

It was also agreed to find a final solution to the issue of continuation of moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transmission of goods by the next ministerial conference of the WTO or not later than March 2024.

One of the sources termed this the most successful conference in the history of the WT0 as it has revitalised the organisation.

“It has restored multilateralism. India took a major leadership role and was the voice of the developing world and the LDCs (Least Developed Countries). The developing countries were building consensus and providing solutions to break every deadlock from time to time during the different sessions and meetings,” they added.

A decision on all the issues reflects camaraderie between developed and developing member countries.

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“Great team effort was there while agreeing on the issues. Concerns of the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific countries) region were fully addressed on the fisheries decision,” the sources said.

They added that the Indian delegation, which was headed by commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal, was continuously getting the guidance and direction from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The focus of the Indian team was to protect the interests of fishermen and farmers.

These decisions also send a strong signal that the world can come together on critical areas like food security and humanitarian crises like the pandemic.

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“The narrative has clearly turned on its head and those who thought that India was obstructing finally woke up to the reality that it was India that helped set the agenda, brought cohesion, covered a wide variety of subjects and became the solution provider at every critical issue,” one of the sources said.