India calls for Development Priority at WTO


In light of what seems to be an impending sense of defeatism and waning interest in the World Trade Organization (WTO) as it approaches its 30th anniversary at the end of December, India has advocated for the prioritization of discussions on “cross-cutting, real-life trade issues” that disproportionately affect developing countries, according to individuals familiar with the discussions.

During the two-day General Council meeting that ended last Friday, India presented an unofficial restricted document, RD/GC/30*, titled “30 Years of WTO: How Has the Development Dimension Progressed?” This document reviews various developments since the WTO's establishment and has reportedly gained substantial support during the discussions.

Several former trade envoys remarked that the development concerns of developing and least-developed countries have been largely overlooked over the past three decades.

Following the Uruguay Round, which resulted in the WTO's creation in 1995, and coinciding with China's WTO accession, the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) was initiated in December 2001 to specifically address the concerns of developing countries within the global trading system. However, after more than two decades of negotiations, the DDA has failed to produce any significant outcomes for these countries, leading to criticism of the WTO's efficacy over its 30-year existence.

India's document reflects on the founding principles of the WTO as articulated in the Marrakesh Agreement, emphasizing the organization's development objectives. It underscores the need for the WTO to revisit its commitment to fostering global prosperity through trade, particularly in supporting the development aspirations of all its members as the organization reaches a significant milestone.

Despite engaging discussions on the development dimension last year, tangible outcomes have been scarce. The document references various contributions to the development dialogue, including papers and reports from the Development Retreat in February 2023, the Africa Group, and the Chair's report on the Senior Officials' Meeting of October 2023, among others.

India proposes a series of focused and structured discussions and debates on development issues across all regular WTO bodies, suggesting thematic sessions in 2024 dedicated to addressing developmental needs, with particular attention to the specific needs of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States.

The document also calls for the revitalization of underutilized WTO bodies, such as the Working Group on Trade and Technology Transfer and the Working Group on Trade, Debt, and Finance, to align more closely with relevant intergovernmental organizations. India emphasizes the importance of addressing cross-cutting trade issues that adversely impact developing countries, including access to finance and technology, effective aid for trade, and the challenges of digital development.

Furthermore, India suggests dedicated discussions in the Committee on Trade and Development to reassess its functionality and proposes publishing a comprehensive report to identify achievements and gaps in addressing development issues within the WTO framework.

India asserts that development should remain a standing agenda item at the General Council until significant progress is made. The document underscores the need for a collective effort to address the disconnect between the WTO's priorities and the needs of a significant portion of its membership, to prevent a decline in engagement and interest in the organization's work.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged the importance of India's concerns, noting that the Secretariat is preparing a comprehensive report on the issues raised, with plans for its circulation in September.

China and Indonesia, among others, voiced their support for India's initiative, highlighting the ongoing development deficit and the critical need for the WTO to address the urgent concerns of developing countries effectively.


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