India to discuss IPR waiver on Covid vaccines, global trade issues during WTO DG’s 3-day visit
India will hold critical rounds of talks with the World Trade Organisation Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala during her three-day visit, starting Wednesday. India will look to push multiple global trade agenda on health and medicine, subsidy restrictions, and multilateral pacts to help the poor, Trend reports citing indiatoday.in.
The WTO DG’s visit to India is significant as it comes little over a month ahead of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the WTO which will take place from November 30 till December 3. The biennial summit, which usually sets the global trade legislation for years to come, is likely to witness major tussles on a number of agendas.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is scheduled to meet top Indian ministers, including Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, who will represent India at MC 12. Sources say that during the visit, the WTO DG may try to gain India’s support for a successful MC 12 next month.
Piyush goyal will be hosting a dinner for the DG in which prominent members of civil society and leaders of various business categories have been invited.
A senior government official said, "The fact that the WTO DG is visiting India ahead of the WTO MC 12 underlines the significance India holds in the ongoing negotiations, especially as a champion of interests of developing and least developed countries or LDCs. During their meetings, Indian ministers are expected to push for India’s proposals to be considered as far as the on-going negotiations in Geneva are concerned."
TOP ITEMS ON INDIA’S AGENDA
Removal of restrictions on trade especially in health and medicine and movement of people are likely to figure prominently in WTO DG’s meeting with Indian ministers.
India has been spearheading the demand for making Covid-19 vaccines accessible to vulnerable populations in low and middle-income countries (LMICS) by granting patent waivers for Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics.
The suspension of global intellectual property rights of Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers, proposed by India, has been facing a deadlock. For almost a year, India and South Africa have been urging the WTO members to suspend certain parts of a global pact on IPR, so that the vaccines and testing technology for Covid-19 can be shared widely
However, nations like UK, Norway, and Switzerland, encouraged by the non-committal stance taken by the US, have managed to thwart the support of almost all WTO member nations on the issue.
The other issue India is likely to raise is over the movement of people, which is crucial for trade. India’s demand is aimed at a uniform non-discriminatory regime for people who have been fully vaccinated.
Sources say that the WTO chief is likely to meet indigenous vaccine manufacturers during her visit, along with other industry representatives since India is a prominent vaccine manufacturing hub and has several concerns in multilateral trade talks.
The other topic of discussions is likely to be on allowing the food security programmes in developing and poor countries without any limits, and for member nations who give, what are termed as trade-distorting, farm subsidies above $10 billion to eliminate them within three years.
Many developing nations, including India, operate major programmes involving purchase, stockpiling and distribution of food grains to needy people. Rich and developing economies have been challenging these programmes, claiming that they are distorting trade equations as governments are fixing a minimum support price (MSP) and distributing the food grain at highly subsidized rates.
Apart from capping the MSP for farmers, they have been pushing for limits on subsidies provided to farmers on fertiliser, seed, irrigation, and pesticides
Developing countries have been opposing this challenge fiercely. Their contention is that the developed countries while demanding a cap of subsidies in developing countries have been refusing to lower the huge farm subsidies in their own countries
A senior trade analyst said," the developed nations want the developing world to cap the subsidies at levels which are way lower than the levels provided to their own farmers. This is an extremely unjust demand as farmers and poor in developing world are in desperate need of hand-holding."
The last column in the table (below) shows that Switzerland, Norway, Canada, USA and Japan provide $19796 to $37952 per annum as entitlement per person employed in agriculture compared to $201 to $ 456 provided by India, Sri Lanka and Kenya.
India has also been making a strong pitch for reducing fishing capacity of countries that fish in distant waters or in the territorial waters of other countries. Indian claim is that there needs to be a balance for harmful overfishing subsidy restrictions with the special needs of developing and least-developed countries.
The WTO has already laid down the finalising disciplines to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and bar certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.
Indian side is expected to make it clear that it would agree only if the pacts carved out are balanced and they address the developing country sensitivities.
MORE BENEFITS FOR INDIA FROM WTO DG’S VISIT
The Indian side is looking forward to the WTO DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s visit for more tangible benefits in form of striking a better working relationship with her.
The next three days would offer India an opportunity to erase the past, as under former WTO DG Roberto Azevedo, India had a choppy and friction-ridden relationship with the trade body due to his position on issues such as e-commerce rules, which was perceived to be favouring the developed nations and ignoring the needs of developing world .
The general assessment is that under Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is only the second non-white and first person to head WTO from Africa, the apathy towards the poorer world might change.