More reports on: World Trade Organisation

WTO should be more responsive to development needs: Nirmala Sitharaman

16 January 2015

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) should be more sensitive to the needs of developing and least developed countries as development encompasses more than facilitating trade, minister of state for commerce and industry (independent charge) Nirmala Sitharaman said, even as she appreciated the good work done by the WTO in stemming protectionism.

Speaking at the Partnership Summit 2015 in Jaipur today, the minister highlighted that under the WTO, a few developing countries have improved their share of global trade while the least developed countries (LDCs), accounted only for a mere 1 per cent of global trade.

Sitharaman expressed concern that some countries have started to equate only free trade with development.

For trade to develop, she said it must help sustain growth, job creation and inclusive development.

For India, she said, development also includes feeding over 32 per cent of the country's poor who live under abject poverty - a concern that the WTO recognised. The minister urged the members of the WTO to show the same urgency on food stockholding as the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) under the Bali Package.

Development is at the centre of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), and many issues of importance for developing countries such as subsidies and non-tariff barriers that are not part of free trade agreements can be addressed through the WTO. ''Trade negotiations need to refocus on multilateral agreements which recognise the legitimate concerns of the developing countries'', said Sitharaman.

WTO director general Roberto Azevedo said that the Bali Package will deliver on the development front by enhancing developing countries' ability to integrate into the world economy, but did not explain how. He also highlighted India's contribution to the multilateral trading system.

Azevedo noted that the benefits of TFA will be visible to Indian industry as competitiveness and exports will receive a boost once members ratify the agreement. The TFA will bring down trade costs by 15 per cent and bolster south-south trade.

He said the remaining issues under the DDA will need to be refocused before the ministerial conference in Nigeria at the end of the year.

Azevedo also said that development has been made a priority as the development dimension is crucial in balancing the global trading system. He stated that WTO provides developing and least-developed countries a seat in the rule-making table as they are not included in the current regional and mega-regional trade agreements.

Earlier, welcoming the participants to the session, Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) stated that the expectations from the WTO in delivering on the development front were high.

He noted that 12 years of negotiations have resulted in the Bali Package, an important albeit small part of the Doha Development Round's initial ambition to rebalance the global trading system. Much more needs to be done very quickly.

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