For the first time in a decade, the members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a 164-nation body, have finalised a historic deal at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), an Indian negotiator said.
However, an official WTO statement was awaited till the time of going to press. The four-day MC12 was extended by a day as trade ministers negotiated through the night at WTO headquarters, next to Lake Geneva, and negotiations continued till Thursday morning.
“India has agreed to the proposal of no export restrictions on the World Food Programme. But internal food security concerns will take precedence. There is no work programme on agriculture, which could be considered as a good outcome for India as our agri subsidy will not face any further scrutiny,” the official said.
On TRIPS (trade-related intellectual property rights) waiver, an agreement could be reached only on vaccines. The official said negotiations for diagnostics and therapeutics would start in six months as demanded by developed countries.
This means India’s demand to include diagnostics and therapeutics in the agreement didn’t find favour with developed countries. In October 2020, India, South Africa, and 63 co-sponsors had made the TRIPS waiver proposal to help middle- and low-income nations get access to Covid-19 vaccines and drugs.
However, the discussions reached a deadlock in the TRIPS Council, the body responsible for monitoring the operation of the agreement. The draft agreement fell short of the original proposal and includes only vaccines.
India had called for a TRIPS waiver for vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to fight Covid-19 and future pandemics. India had held it was too late in the day if only vaccines were included because the pandemic had run its initial course. On a moratorium on Customs duty on e-commerce transactions, countries agreed to extend it by another two years.
India was officially opposed to extending the moratorium, citing loss of revenue to developing countries. On fisheries subsidies also, an agreement is likely with carve-outs for India and other developing countries.
“But over-fishing by China will face discipline,” the official said.
Another official said India was at the centre of WTO negotiations at the MC12.
“India put forth aggressive draft texts in all pillars of WTO negotiations rather than being reactive, as in the past. India brought the members together to a unanimous agreement on fisheries, health, the future of WTO reforms, digital technology, food, and environment. The voice of the poor and the vulnerable got strengthened globally by India’s principled stand at the WTO,” he added.
An agreement at Geneva makes it the first trade deal since the 2013 Bali Ministerial, where members signed the WTO’s first trade deal on a peace clause on public stockholding for food security purposes and a trade facilitation agreement. The consensus-driven, rule-making process at the multilateral trade organisation means even one member could thwart a deal at the last moment.