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Mangesh Shinde asked: In what ways has India played a leadership role in WTO negotiations and what has been its strategy up till now?

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  • Rajeesh Kumar replies: India was one of the 23 original signatories to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) concluded in 1947. Since then, India has effectively involved in the formulation of all significant multilateral trade agreements. In the multilateral trade negotiations under GATT, India has often positioned itself as a leader of developing countries and led these countries in challenging some of GATT’s fundamental principles, including the reciprocity.

    When GATT’s successor, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), was formed in 1995, India became a founding member. Nonetheless, India’s purist approach to the multilateral trading system – a fair, open, transparent and balanced trading regime in developing countries’ interest, remained in WTO negotiations as well. For instance, India opposed expanding trade rules into issue areas such as labour standards, competition policy, government procurement, trade in investment and trade facilitation agreement. With other emerging powers such as Brazil and China, India led the developing countries in securing some significant special and differential treatment (SDT) provisions. India was also one of the primary catalysers of the power shifts in WTO in recent years. It played a significant role in building developing country coalitions such as the G20 and the G33.

    However, in later years, especially in the last decade, India’s approach towards the multilateral trade regime has undergone a sea change. Though India continues to advocate for developing and least-developed countries, the country has moderated its position in many issue areas. For instance, in the Bali Ministerial Conference in 2013, India supported the first-ever multilateral trade facilitation agreement. At present, specific concerns for India remains centred on agriculture, farmers, and special safeguard measures. Thus, India leads efforts to reform WTO subsidy rules to enable developing countries to engage in public food stockholding for food security purposes. It also calls for making the multilateral trading system more fair and inclusive. In this regard, India along with South Africa submitted a proposal that called for development-centric reforms in WTO. The proposal also highlighted the increasing trade frictions and necessity of reforming WTO dispute settlement mechanism. However, India is against changing the consensus-driven character of WTO, which could go against the country's interest.

    Posted on December 30, 2020

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.