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Prabhu stresses on need for modified, forward-looking & inclusive WTO
Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ashwani Maindola, New Delhi
Suresh Prabhu, minister of commerce and industry, Government of India, emphasised the critical importance of devising a modified, forward-looking and inclusive World Trade Organization (WTO) that includes deliberations on all substantive issues, old and new, pertaining to the various countries’ interests and resolutions in a time-bound manner.

Speaking at a conference titled Strategic Alliance for WTO and Trade Remedies Law and Practice, organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) jointly with Lakshmikumaran and Sridharan in New Delhi recently, he said expansion of global trade hinged on rules and processes determined by the WTO and unless global trade expanded, national economies will not benefit.

“It is, therefore, important that all substantive issues that have been agreed to at the Doha and other trade rounds, as well as the new issues that have cropped up, are addressed with a sense of urgency,” Prabhu added.

Post the mini-ministerial conference in March this year, he said, “We are preparing an agenda that does not exclude any country in the process of making the WTO better.”

Prabhu said that he had personally met 150 trade ministers from different countries to take a reformed WTO agenda forward. “I am getting a positive response from all concerned, including the director general of WTO, in our endeavour to take all countries on board,” he added.

It is pertinent to mention here that for some time, Indian policies like food security and public stockpiling of the food, and more recently, the proposed agri export policy have seen some resistance amongst the WTO members.

Recently, India informed WTO that the new agri policy would be in sync with the global trade rules. The policy wants to do away with the minimum export price or outright ban and seeks to boost the exports to close to $60 billion by 2022. Even the European Union (EU) asked for a detailed explanation on the subject.

Arpita Mukherjee, professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), stated that this was regarding the WTO’s SCM Agreement which contains a definition of the term subsidy based on three basic elements: (i) a financial contribution (ii) made by a government or any public body within the territory of a Member, (iii) which confers a benefit.

“All three of these elements must be satisfied in order for a subsidy to exist. Thus, the SCM Agreement applies not only to measures of national governments, but also to measures of sub-national governments, and of such public bodies as state-owned companies,” she added.

While the Government of India says that the National Agriculture Export Policy was formulated in line with the vision to double the farmers’ incomes and increase the share of agricultural exports from the present $30 billion-plus to over $60 billion-plus by 2022, and to boost high value and value added agricultural exports, focussing on perishables.

The policy note also stated that it aimed to promote novel indigenous, organic, ethnic traditional and non-traditional categories and to provide an institutional mechanism for tackling market access barriers and deal with sanitary and phytosanitary issues.

India aims to become one of the top 10 exporting countries of agricultural products and strive to double India’s share in world agri exports by this policy, that also focusses on export-centric clusters for integrated commodity focus value chain and infrastructure development.

On the question of how achievable the targets were, Mukherjee stated, “The policy has identified certain barriers to exports such as poor logistics infrastructure, leading to wastage, poor quality, primarily exports are low value, semi-processed products, etc.”

“It offers certain suggestions to boost exports, such as stable trade policy. However, most of our exports are rejected due to non-adherence to food safety and health standards,” she added.

Mukherjee said, “So unless we meet the standards of the importing countries export cannot increase. Overall, the focus is balanced, but the core issue of not meeting food safety standards in spite of export control bodies, like the Export Inspection Council of India (EIC), has not been given the due importance.”
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