The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has given ex-post facto approval to the Note submitted by the Department of Commerce and approved the approach to be adopted by India at the Eleventh Ministerial Conference of the WTO held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in December 2017.
The mandate exercised and approach adopted at the Conference was aimed at protecting India’s interests, priorities and concerns during the Ministerial Conference.
In the run-up to the Conference, decisions were expected on a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes as per the Bali/Nairobi mandate and other agriculture issues. Some WTO member countries were seeking outcomes on domestic regulations in services, disciplines on fisheries subsidies, E-commerce, Investment Facilitation and Micro, Medium and Small Enterprises (MSMEs).
However, ultimately, there was no outcome on public stockholding for food security purposes or on other agriculture issues due to an absence of consensus.
The Bali Ministerial Decision together with the General Council Decision of November 2014, which was reaffirmed at the Tenth Ministerial Conference of the WTO in December 2015 protects India through availability of an interim mechanism on public stockholding for food security purposes, till a permanent solution is agreed and adopted by the WTO. Thus, India’s foodgrain procurement programmes at Minimum Support Prices remain protected.
Ministerial decisions taken during the Conference include a Work Programme on disciplines on Fisheries Subsidies with a view to arriving at a decision by the Twelfth Ministerial Conference of the WTO, in 2019. It was also decided to continue with the non-negotiating mandate of the existing Work Programme on E-Commerce, as proposed by India. As was done in previous Ministerial Conferences, an existing moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transmission was expanded for two years. Another moratorium on TRIPS non-violation companies was maintained, which prevents ‘ever-greening’ of patents in the pharmaceuticals sector, thereby ensuring accessibility and affordability of generic medicines.
Ministerial decisions on new issues like Investment Facilitation, MSMEs, gender and trade, which lacked a mandate or consensus, were not taken forward.
As there were wide differences among members, with a few members not supporting acknowledgment and reiteration of key underlying principles guiding the WTO and varied agreed mandates, Ministers could not arrive at an agreed Ministerial Declaration. India did not support the draft Ministerial Declaration as it excluded or failed to adequately cover important issues such as multilateralism, the Doha Development Agenda and special and differential treatment of developing countries.
However, wide support was expressed for the multilateral trading system and the commitment to move forward on various areas of work in the WTO. It is also noteworthy that even in the absence of a Ministerial Declaration, the existing mandates and decisions ensure that work will go forward and Members will continue to work on issues such as the permanent solution on public stockholding for food security purposes, an agricultural Special Safeguard Mechanism, agricultural subsidies and other issues.