Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal told a meeting of delegates Tuesday that it would not bend on demands for extensive exceptions on a 20-year negotiation to curb harmful government fishery subsidies, according to a statement on his ministry’s website.
He also insisted members water down the WTO’s subsidies rules for government-backed food-purchasing programs aimed at feeding poor citizens, delegates in attendance said.
“The Indian delegation has raised everybody’s eyebrows,” Mexican Undersecretary of Foreign Trade Luz Maria de la Mora said in an interview. “You cannot come to a negotiating forum, particularly at this stage, making demands that they brand as non-negotiable.”
The tough stance by one of the world’s largest developing economies could threaten a multi-year effort to conclude a package of small but symbolically important deals and may cement the view that the WTO is no longer a viable forum to address the shortcomings of international commerce.
“We are getting to the tough spot of the negotiations now,” WTO Spokesman Dan Pruzin said in a press briefing. “The not-so-good news is that we are running out of time. It is crunch time.”
The WTO has operated for more than a quarter century on the basis of consensus decision-making — meaning any one member’s veto can scuttle agreements. That model, critics say, is also why it’s been largely ineffective as a deal-making forum for much of the past decade.
The world’s top trade officials are now mulling the prospect of a more polarized era of trade relations where multilateral deals become a relic and like-minded nations move forward without the holdouts.
“These subsidies rules are concern to India and smaller, poorer countries that rely on the certainty of a rules-based system to benefit from trade,” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.. “They risk that being eroded in ways that we don’t know what a replacement would look like.”
Pruzin said delegates may extend the ministerial conference, originally scheduled to conclude on June 15, to try to provide more time to pull off a victory under the leadership of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. But other attendees were pessimistic that there is anything that could convince India to show flexibility.
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