New Delhi, 2nd July 2023: According to a government official, Commerce Secretary-level officers from all 164 member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will gather in Geneva on October 23-24. Their objective is to discuss various matters that can be further deliberated upon during the ministerial conference scheduled for February of the following year. The Indian delegation for the role of Commerce Secretary will comprise Sunil Barthwal, along with Peeyush Kumar, who will serve as the Additional Secretary representing the Ministry. The official highlighted that India’s agenda includes topics such as the fisheries subsidy agreement, reforms in the WTO’s dispute settlement body, a moratorium on e-commerce, and agriculture-related issues.

Traditionally, the ministerial conference serves as the highest decision-making body of the WTO. As an organization based in Geneva, it addresses global export and import-related norms and resolves trade disputes among its members. Significantly, the ‘Geneva Package,’ which includes agreements to reduce detrimental fishing subsidies and provide temporary patent waivers for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing, was unanimously agreed upon by WTO members on June 17, 2022.

Regarding the fisheries subsidies pact, the official clarified that it currently pertains solely to illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. However, discussions will cover the complete agreement. At the 2022 ministerial conference, participants also agreed to seek a final solution regarding the continuation of the moratorium on customs duties for the electronic transmission of goods by the next conference.

India strongly opposes extending this moratorium due to its negative impact on developing nations. It is expected that New Delhi will reiterate its opposition to further extensions during the ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi.

In the agricultural sector, India seeks to find a permanent solution for public stockholding concerning food security. This includes amendments to the formula used for calculating the food subsidy cap and the inclusion of programs implemented after 2013 under the ‘Peace Clause,’ among other demands.

Additionally, India is advocating for the establishment of a Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) to protect impoverished and marginalized farmers from import surges or drastic price declines. The WTO’s agricultural negotiations encompass several topics, such as domestic support, market access, export competition, export restrictions, cotton, public stockholding for food security, the special safeguard mechanism, and the cross-cutting issue of transparency.

The 13th ministerial conference is scheduled to take place during the week of February 26, 2024, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.