India, 9 other countries submit paper to toughen WTO, increase development

Chennai: Ten WTO member countries, including India, have suggested expeditious resolution of problems being faced by the dispute settlement body and called for addressing issues emanating from unilateral actions taken by some countries.

In a paper for strengthening the WTO to promote development and inclusivity, these 10 countries have emphasised that the special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should continue arguing that it was a non-negotiable right.

“The immediate priorities for reform at the WTO must include — resolving the crisis in the appellate body; and addressing the unilateral actions taken by some members,” it said.

Appellate body is an important organ of the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism and the US is creating a roadblock in the appointment of judges in the body.

The minimum quorum (3) for functioning of this body will end on 10 December, after which it will become dysfunctional. It said “a sine qua non (an essential condition) for strengthening the system is unblocking the vacancies in the appellate body. This is an urgent priority since in the absence of a functional, effective and independent mechanism for enforcing rules, negotiating new rules in any area makes no sense”.

Further, countries like the US have taken unilateral actions such as imposing high import duties, which has triggered trade war. The paper also stressed that said the WTO reform must reaffirm the principle of special and differential treatment (S&DT), which is a “treaty-embedded, non-negotiable right” for all developing countries.

“Through this concept paper, we seek to identify the issues that must be addressed if the WTO is to be strengthened in a balanced manner,” it added.

The S&DT are flexibilities provided to developing countries in the WTO. Under this, they enjoy benefits like higher domestic support for the agriculture sector and longer time periods for implementing agreements and binding commitments.

Besides India, the other countries are South Africa, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Malawi, Oman, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Historically high levels
Member countries of the WTO have imposed 38 new trade-restrictive measures during October 2018 and May this year, mainly through tariff increases, import bans, and export duties, said the organisation.

“Trade flows hit by new restrictions implemented by WTO members continued at a historically high level between mid-October 2018 and mid-May,” according to a report of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). These measures, it said, are suggesting that the precarious situation in global trade will persist.

“WTO members applied 38 new trade-restrictive measures during the review period mainly through tariff increases, import bans, special safeguards, import taxes and export duties,” it said.

Increasing trade tensions add to the uncertainty surrounding international trade and the world economy, the report noted.

 

Warning about the end
India has warned of the impending end of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Appellate Body, trade envoys said, with the US continuing to block the selection of judges to the global trade disputes court.

“The ongoing impasse in filling vacancies of the Appellate Body remains, with no response from the objecting member (the US), in spite of dozen proposals to address to concerns related to its functioning,” India said at the informal trade negotiations committee meeting on Friday.

“The (WTO) membership needs to act before the Appellate Body moves from the ICU to the mortuary,” J S Deepak, India’s trade envoy warned at the meeting.

India has been a member of Geneva-based WTO since January 1995.

NT Bureau