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India's WTO Wish List Includes Agriculture, Fisheries & Pandemic Response Waivers

After a nearly five-year hiatus, the twelfth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference began on June 12 in Geneva, Switzerland. The WTO's response to the pandemic, fisheries subsidy negotiations, and agriculture challenges for food security are among the main topics of discussion and negotiations during this year's conference.

Chintu Das
Piyush Goyal
Piyush Goyal

After a five-year hiatus, the twelfth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference kicked off on June 12 in Geneva, Switzerland. India expressed worries about permanent disciplines in the WTO accords on the Covid-19 response ahead of the negotiations.

According to India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry, additional 'permanent' disciplines in WTO agreements to respond to the pandemic are causing concern. India does not want the pandemic's challenges to be confused with issues such as market access, reforms, export restrictions, or transparency. For the WTO's pandemic response and outcomes to be credible, India believes that supply-side restrictions must be addressed.

Although the draft text does not reflect India's position on waivers from global intellectual property rights in the event of the pandemic, the country's pharmaceutical industry has acknowledged it.

In the face of no actions listed by the trade body in a draft declaration on pandemic response dated June 10, India said it wanted the WTO to address supply-side concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic with credible outcomes. Between June 12 and 15, the 12th Ministerial Conference will address these issues.

The current negotiations are based on a text that includes outcomes on transparency and monitoring, easy market access, no new export restrictions, trade facilitation, and tariffs.

To combat the pandemic more effectively, India and South Africa, together with 65 other WTO members, are seeking a waiver of some copyrights, industrial designs, patents, and protection of undisclosed knowledge under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.

"Elements pertaining to limiting the scope for export restrictions, seeking permanent disciplines with respect to trade facilitation measures, increased market access, and limiting the scope for TRIPS waiver are being sought by certain developed countries such as the EU, US, UK, and Canada," the ministry said.

"At the moment, India is constructively engaged at the WTO to finalise elements on the WTO Pandemic Response," it continued.


The protection of India's food grain procurement programme at Minimum Support Prices (MSP) is a key subject under discussion at the WTO. Such programmes entail purchasing from farmers at set prices and are critical for the country's farmers and consumers. WTO rules limit the amount of subsidy that can be given to such products.

This issue is being negotiated at the WTO by the G-33, a group of developing countries, of which India is a key member, and the African Group, which has joined the ACP group in submitting a proposal on a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes by May 31, 2022.

Other agricultural topics being discussed include market access, a special safeguard mechanism for developing countries to protect domestic agricultural producers from import surges and price drops through additional import duties, similar to the safeguard currently available to many developed and few developing countries.


India stated that it is eager to finish the fisheries agreement at the upcoming conference, pointing out that certain member countries' irrational subsidies lead to overfishing, which harms Indian fishermen and their livelihood. India is certain that it should not repeat the mistakes of the Uruguay Round, which granted a few members unequal and trade-distorting agricultural privileges.

"Big subsidisers must take greater responsibility for reducing their subsidies and fishing capacities in order to ensure long-term sustainability. Any agreement must take into account the fact that different countries are at different phases of development and that their current fishing arrangements reflect their current economic capacities. As countries evolve, their needs will change. Any agreement must strike a balance between current and future demands for exploiting fisheries in marine waters and on the high seas " added the ministry.

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