Landmark deal signed by WTO almost after 10 years
In a first major agreement in nine years, the series of trade deals include pledges on food security, balanced outcome fisheries subsidies, and response to pandemic – all issues important to developing countries.
The 164 member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) finally sealed a package of trade agreements in the wee hours on Friday in Geneva, with India leading the course. The deals approved at the 12th ministerial conference of the WTO were ground out over days of round-the-clock talks, and is the first major agreement in nine years.
The series of trade deals include pledges on food security, balanced outcome on fisheries subsidies, and response to pandemic – all issues important to developing countries.
A key decision related to patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines is also expected soon, with the US yet to officially seal it.
The deal survived last minute hiccups on Thursday night that threatened to derail an outcome on fisheries and TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver.
The deal that India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal’s negotiation skills saw several trade-offs between developed and developing countries during the two nights of marathon talks, spilling past the Thursday afternoon deadline.
“All agreements fully agreed and were unanimously signed. Decision on temporary patent (TRIPS) waiver is expected any time soon. We are just waiting for the US approval on it,” said an official source in Geneva.
According to sources, Prime minister Narendra Modi actively oversaw negotiations through the ministerial in Geneva.
India defended its right to extend subsidies to its fishermen, with contentious clauses removed from the text at the last minute. In turn, India agreed to an 18-month extension of the moratorium on customs duty on electronic imports that, it argues, favours rich nations.
According to the revised draft fisheries text reviewed by Mint, the two contentious clauses that proposed a ban on overfishing subsidies within seven years have been struck off. India was seeking a transition period of 25 years instead of seven years to withdraw such support. The talks took place against the backdrop of several Indian fishermen travelling to Geneva and holding protests.
The current deal will only cover the elimination of harmful subsidies to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.
In the final leg, India clearly outlined that it would agree to extend the moratorium on customs duty on digital imports if the “ultimate package of MC12″ favoured the interest of India and developing nations.
The agreement says that the current moratorium on customs duty on digital imports will continue till 31 December 2023. So far, the moratorium has been extended every two years since 1998, preventing countries from imposing any tariffs on digital or electronic imports or transmissions.
However, India has limited the extension to only one-and-a-half years this time. “Should the ministerial conference 13 be delayed beyond 31 March 2024, the moratorium will expire on that date unless ministers or the general council take a decision to extend,” read the final text reviewed by Mint.
“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.
Decision on all the issues reflects camaraderie between developed and developing member countries.
“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,” source said.
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