Following is the text of the opening remarks of the Minister for Commerce and Industry, Shri Suresh Prabhu during his media interaction at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC) in Buenos Aires, Argentina today.
“The Trade Ministers of 164 countries are meeting at the MC11 against the backdrop of rising anti-globalisation and challenges to the multilateral trading system.
India is a strong supporter of the multilateral system, and we are extremely concerned at this situation. India would like to see that the WTO Membership takes, this opportunity to unequivocally reaffirm the importance of a rules-based multilateral trading system, as enshrined in the Marrakesh Agreement and also re-endorse the centrality of development in WTO negotiations, without introducing differentiation among developing countries.
India is looking forward to constructive engagement of all members for taking final decisions in areas where specific mandates were provided at Nairobi.
The discourse should be on development at the WTO and not to be deflected based on aggregate GDP figures. While in India we are proud of our GDP and growth rates of recent years, propelled by innovative economic policies of my government, we cannot ignore that India is home to more than 600 million poor people. Therefore, we are legitimate demandeurs for special and differential treatment for developing countries.
It is also noteworthy that many developed countries of today have benefitted from long periods of derogation from GATT rules in the area of agriculture and textiles.
India would like to see an outcome in the permanent solution for public stockholding for food security purposes. A successful resolution of this issue would send a strong signal that trade openness and addressing hunger need not be in conflict.
As regards the ongoing issue on the negotiating table of agricultural domestic support, we need to be reminded that the agreed objectives of agriculture negotiations in the Doha Round, called for continuation of the reform process in this area, rather than further widening and perpetuating of the imbalance between developed and developing countries. Any meaningful reform in agriculture must first seek to reduce the disproportionately large subsidies of the developed countries.
Special and differential treatment for developing countries is a very important part of the WTO’s mandate and must be preserved. We are willing to engage on proposals that recognize this right for all developing countries without exception.
In India, cultivators and agricultural labourers together number over 250 million, more than the total population of many countries. The total number dependent on agriculture in one way or another, is even higher, close to 600 million. Nearly 98 per cent of Indian farmers are low income or resource poor and most of them are engaged in subsistence farming. Many of them have to deal with unfavourable agro-climatic conditions, further compounded by climate change, of which India is a victim. My government is committed to doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022. Our circumstances make it imperative for us to balance trade liberalisation with the need to protect their livelihood.
We also attach considerable significance to an effective and useable Special Safeguard Mechanism that would provide a shield to farmers in developing countries from unfair competition from subsidised imports. We look forward to MC 11 taking a final decision on this issue.
India recognises that some progress has been made in the area of fisheries subsidies. We look forward to a balanced outcome on this issue at MC 11 that preserves the policy space for developing countries to support millions of their resource poor fish workers who are depend on traditional fishing activity as a source of livelihood.
In the area of services negotiations, India has engaged constructively and in an open manner with the proponents of the domestic regulation disciplines. However, we believe that DR issues in isolation will have little or no impact on trade in services. We also need to address entry related ‘at the border measures’ for movement of professionals.
As regards new issues that are sought to be introduced into the negotiating agenda of the WTO, such as e-commerce, investment facilitation and MSMEs, in India’s view agreeing to these would be extremely onerous and would curtail our policy space to implement appropriate development policies.
Further, while we are not opposed to taking cognizance of change, we cannot ignore the legacy issues of the Doha Round. Discussions on new issues are distracting attention from priority areas for which mandates exist. India sees little rationale for new issues when so many issues are awaiting resolution. The fact of the matter is that new issues are yet to be fully understood by the membership in terms of their scope, definitions and implications.
India is concerned at the inordinate delay in appointment of new members to the Appellate Body. We need to collectively and expeditiously resolve this impasse and also ensure that the Appellate Body members retain their autonomy, without being influenced by the governments of the member countries.
It is in the collective interest of the WTO membership to preserve and revitalise the WTO.
This Ministerial Conference is a good occasion for concluding the unfinished agenda of the Doha Work Programme and then examining other possible agenda for subsequent Ministerials.”