Senior Officials Discuss Dispute Settlement Reform, Agri, E-Commerce At 2-Day WTO Meet In Geneva

The meeting concluded on October 24. From India, senior officials, including Additional Secretary in the commerce ministry Peeyush Kumar, participated in the deliberations
Senior Officials Discuss Dispute Settlement Reform, Agri, E-Commerce At 2-Day WTO Meet In Geneva

Issues like dispute settlement reform, agriculture, fisheries subsidies and moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce trade figured in the two-day meeting of senior officials of WTO members in Geneva.

The meeting concluded on October 24. From India, senior officials, including Additional Secretary in the commerce ministry Peeyush Kumar, participated in the deliberations.

According to the chairperson's summary of the meeting, senior officials strongly supported the ongoing informal process on dispute settlement (DS) reform being carried out in Geneva by technical experts.

This summary was prepared by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and General Council Chairperson Athaliah Lesiba Molokomme from Botswana.

In expressing their political support for DS reform work, senior officials emphasised on the need to focus on addressing the DS challenges with a sense of urgency; and to take into account the dispute settlement interests of all member countries of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the summary said.

Besides formulating norms for global exports and imports, the Geneva-based 164-member multi-lateral body adjudicates trade disputes among the member countries.

The dispute settlement mechanism of WTO has been derailed due to a non-functional appellate body since December 2019 as the US has blocked the appointment of new appellate body members. The appellate body is WTO's highest court. It hears appeals of decisions made by WTO panels.

Its members are currently appointed through a consensus of WTO member countries. This has made it difficult to appoint new members in recent years. Some countries have proposed changing the appointment process to make it more transparent and democratic.

"Going forward, all members are encouraged to actively participate in the ongoing process on DS reform with the view to achieving tangible outcomes at MC13 in line with political guidance provided by senior officials," the summary added.

The 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) is scheduled for February 26-29 in Abu Dhabi. The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO.

On agriculture and food security, the summary said that several officials stressed the necessity of making progress in the agriculture negotiations, including public stockholding for food security purposes, domestic support, market access, and special safeguard mechanism.

India is pitching for finding a permanent solution to the public stockholding issue as it is important for ensuring food security of people in the developing countries.

On fisheries subsidies, the summary added that the officials expressed their commitment to conclude the second phase of negotiations and implement the first phase of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies.

The WTO countries at the Geneva meeting in June 2022 concluded the first phase of the agreement under which it was agreed to prohibit developed countries, engaged in distant water fishing, not to provide subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.

However, the countries have to negotiate about the other issues of the agreement, which include overfishing and overcapacity.

Further, according to the summary, many senior officials identified the e-commerce moratorium as an important issue for MC13.

India strongly opposes continuation of the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce trade at the WTO as it was adversely impacting developing countries.

The WTO members had agreed not to impose customs duties on electronic transmissions since 1998 and the moratorium has been periodically extended at successive WTO's ministerial conferences.

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