India holds WTO hostage as key talks drag into overtime – POLITICO

GENEVA – Progress in key global trade talks is being blocked by India, forcing a crucial international conference to drag on.

The World Trade Organization gave itself one more day on Wednesday to reach agreements, but diplomats are pessimistic about whether New Delhi will stop blocking consensus on everything from harmful fishing subsidies to safety. food and a waiver of the COVID-19 vaccine patent.

“However, to be honest, it is not yet clear that there is a deal to be reached,” a person close to the talks said on Wednesday afternoon, adding that “there are some pretty destructive tactics going on. , mainly from [India].”

The WTO’s ministerial conference in Geneva, its first major decision-making meeting in five years, is now set to tentatively end Thursday mid-afternoon. But that could also change, said WTO spokesman Dan Pruzin.

Many countries are furious with India’s blocking tactics, which threaten to derail any deals that were potentially within reach at the meeting.

“India is dancing a very smart and strategic dance” at this conference, said a Geneva trade diplomat, acting as “the difficult child of the WTO”. But “we must not let them get away with their bullshit,” added the diplomat.

One of the biggest blows would be a failure to reach an agreement to cut subsidies that have contributed to the depletion of ocean fish stocks. These talks have been going on for more than 20 years and the countries have moved closer to a final agreement in recent months.

However, India wants developing countries to have 25 years to phase out subsidies and has made other demands that cross other countries’ red lines.

New Delhi primarily wants members to permanently exempt its government food storage programs from WTO rules. Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said on Sunday that the WTO should resolve the issue of public stockholding before tackling new areas, a statement that has dominated all negotiations this week.

India and Indonesia are threatening to block the renewal of a 24-year-old moratorium that prevents countries from imposing tariffs on digital goods and services, as well as routine commercial data transmissions that cross borders.

This would be a major setback to the role of the WTO in promoting free and open trade, although countries would still have to decide individually whether or not to impose the duties.

The most promising area for a deal would allow developing countries to waive intellectual property protection of COVID-19 vaccines to allow domestic manufacturers to create generic versions of lifesaving drugs. But it seems that the talks have gone sour.

Back to square one

“We thought we were pretty close until a few other delegations came in to say ‘let’s go back to square one,'” the person familiar with the talks about the vaccine talks that took place on Tuesday evening said. “So it remains to be seen if we can deliver that.”

The WTO could also approve a broader package to address some of the trade concerns that have arisen during the pandemic, such as export restrictions. However, India and others are insisting that it include an automatic trigger to deal with future pandemics – an unacceptable request for members like the EU, US, UK and Switzerland.

With Delhi in the limelight, other countries are not held responsible for stalling the talks. China and the United States, for example, still have major issues to resolve over whether or not China should leverage its status as a developing country in the patent waiver and fisheries negotiations.

Beijing lets “the shipwreck be done by the Indians where the shipwreck must be done and come to defend certain very specific interests that they have”, the said a person familiar with the talks.

India’s tough stance in Geneva raises questions about its participation in US President Joe Biden’s flagship trade initiative, the proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity.

Brussels could also shudder at the idea of ​​launching bilateral trade talks with India on Friday, when Goyal is expected in the European capital.

“Are they [India] really going to demolish the whole building? wondered the person close to the talks.

POLITICO has reached out to the Indian delegation with a request for comment but has not received a response as of press time.

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