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WTO chief to meet G-33, G-20 countries today

General Council remains suspended

Nayanima Basu  |  New Delhi 

World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevêdo has called a meeting of G-33 and G-20 countries in an effort to salvage the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) as the deadline to sign it nears, while hectic consultations to mount pressure on India persisted behind closed doors to change its stance over linking the pact with food security.

Stalemate at the WTO continued on Monday even as the General Council remained suspended as members were unsure of whether a compromise can be struck with India.

However, late Monday night it emerged that DG Azevêdo has decided to meet the ambassadors of G-33 and G-20 countries, which included India. Besides, the African group and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) were also invited.

  • The General Council remained suspended on Monday as members were unsure of whether a compromise can be struck with India
  • World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevêdo has decided to meet the ambassadors of G-33 and G-20 countries, besides the African group and Least Developed Countries
  • If a resolution does not emerge, then the issue would close automatically, sine die, at midnight on July 31
  • Some of the developing countries have also joined the developed nations in asking India to strike a compromise formula

"In response to a surge of interest and concerns from members about the future of our negotiations, Director-General Azevêdo has organised a meeting of all ambassadors here at the WTO tomorrow (on Tuesday). He will outline for them what has happened and what efforts are underway to bring about a resolution to what has emerged as a real crisis here," a senior trade official present in Geneva told Business Standard.

The WTO General Council, which is the highest decision-making body and equivalent to ministerial, had met last week on July 24-25. But it got suspended for not being able to build a consensus among the 160-member countries, especially India, to sign the Protocol of Amendment relating to TFA by the July 31 deadline.

"This is not resumption of the General Council, but just an information session. It is difficult to project how this might turn out," the official added.

The General Council's chairperson and Canada's WTO Ambassador John Fried had said the council might reconvene this week. However, by late Monday afternoon chances of it resuming seemed bleak, as members "did not see any reason" to do so because India remains insistent on its position.

"This is India against the WTO, developed and developing, large and small, north, south, east and west," said a developed country representative, who refused to be identified.

While concluding the General Council on Friday, Fried had said in the event members did not foresee a resolution emerging, then it would close automatically, sine die, at midnight on July 31.

Besides developed nations, some of the developing countries also seemed to have joined the chorus in asking India to strike a compromise formula and adhere to the Bali Package. However, according to officials, India has refused to relent.

Efforts to make India to change its position continued over the weekend. On Saturday, a couple of informal meetings happened between India and the European Union and an Australia-led group representing a mix of 25 developed and developing countries, to salvage the Bali Package from collapsing, especially the TFA.

"Having signed on to the Ministerial Decisions in Bali, let there be no doubt about India's commitment to those decisions, including the TFA. All we are asking is that the public stockholding issue as well as other decisions of Bali be taken forward in the same time frame as Trade Facilitation … We believe this is a simple issue, which can be addressed very quickly," said India's Ambassador to WTO Anjali Prasad.

However, officials stated that India remained firm on having a parallel agreement on food security issues alongside the TFA, which seeks to streamline customs procedures of all WTO-member countries thereby resulting in faster and easier movement of goods.

There were even threats from some countries that blocking the TFA will result in collapse of the Bali Package, which was agreed upon by all countries in December last year. Some even stated that the interim measure or the 'Peace Clause' which was achieved after a hard-fought negotiating round in Indonesia, might also be withdrawn.

There were also talks of the entire talks failing regarding food security that is expected to be part of Post-Bali Work Programme.

"It is of no use to sugar-coat the consequences of such action or to pretend that there would be business as usual in the aftermath. Many members, including developing country members, have noted that, if the Bali package fails, there can be no post-Bali. It's with regret that we agree with them," US Ambassador to the WTO and Deputy US Trade Representative Michael Punke stated.

Officials said the issue might come up during the upcoming India-US fifth strategic dialogue with US Secretary of State John Kerry taking it up directly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

According to the EU, it is not ready to renegotiate basic elements or timelines that were agreed as integral part of the Bali Package.

China, Brazil and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have also joined the chorus. They stated that if Bali gets undermined during such a crucial stage, then hopes of having a concrete post-Bali work programme will be impossible.

First Published: Tue, July 29 2014. 00:49 IST