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Govt plans meet to firm up India’s stand on key issues at WTO mini ministerial


NEW DELHI: Ahead of the crucial mini ministerial meeting of 40 countries in March, the commerce ministry plans to hold discussions with industry, academia and former trade envoys on February 19-20 to firm up India’s position on key issues in the World Trade Organization.

The exercise is being undertaken in view of the collapse of previous ministerial conference talks in December 2017 and to set the agenda for the upcoming meet, officials said.

“There will be a confluence of views from across sectors to discuss the state of play. It is a big stakeholder meet to know whether we need to recalibrate our position in WTO,” said an official. Officials from other ministries, former commerce secretaries, ambassadors and legal experts will also participate in the meeting, which is also likely to be attended by chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian.

New issues such as investment facilitation and e-commerce, and others such as MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) and gender would be taken up on day one while institutional issues such as dispute settlement and role of WTO secretariat and development issues would be discussed the next day.

Many countries had formed informal pressure groups to push a plethora of new issues like ecommerce, investment facilitation and MSME in the ambit of the WTO at previous ministerial conference (MC11). Moreover, non-trade issues such as gender, labour standards and environment too were pushed through informal groupings and events, which India and others opposed.

Inputs from the stakeholder consultation will be put forth in the informal WTO ministers’ gathering or a mini ministerial that India is hosting between March 19 and 20. The mini ministerial comes after talks collapsed at MC11in Buenos Aires in December 2017 as the US backtracked on its commitment to discuss agricultural issues, which is India’s key area of interest. WTO director general Roberto Azevedo will also participate in the March meeting.

“The US is waiting for details such as the agenda of the mini ministerial and India’s position,” said another person in the know of details.

ET View: India must be flexible
It would be very much in India’s interest to be forward-looking and flexible at the global trade talks. For instance, there is much scope to review our stance on public stock-holding limits, so as to reduce costs for the exchequer and boost efficiency. We do need to better leverage private stock-holding infrastructure. The fact of the matter is that stocks with Food Corporation of India remain way over and above prudential limits, and which needs prompt reviewing. We also need to be much more involved in the deliberations and attendant rule-making, for example when it comes to e-commerce or services.


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