WTO chief hopeful of good outcome at Geneva meet after India visit

WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Friday said India has a strong voice in the World Trade Organization and she is hopeful of a good outcome at the forthcoming ministerial conference at Geneva.

The 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) will take place from November 30 to December 3, 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland.

It was originally scheduled to take place in June 2020 in Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. MC is the highest decision making body of the WTO. The last meeting was held in December 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The Geneva-based WTO frames rules for global exports and imports. It has 164 members. India has been a member since 1995.

The Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), however, said she does not know the exact deliverables of that meeting, but feels a spirit of support to get some results in that conference.

“I am hopeful for a good outcome at MC12 after the visit…I really felt a lot of support from the Indian side,” she told reporters here.

On fisheries subsidies agreement negotiations, Okonjo-Iweala said members have given the proposal “a go” and the countries have to negotiate that amongst themselves, but added that “given it a go is not that I am guaranteeing that we will get it, but the spirit to go for it, gives you quite a bit of hope.”

While developed nations are pushing for prohibitions on fisheries subsidies, India wants an equitable and balanced outcome as the country provides support to its small and marginal fishermen who depend on the sector for sustenance.

India wants to be heard on its concerns and the chair of the negotiations has been reaching out to understand the new proposals from India, she said.

“India deserves to be heard. India will be heard,” she added.

The Director General also briefed reporters about her meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal.

Regarding her meeting with the Prime Minister, Okonjo-Iweala said they talked about multilateralism and the need for strengthening the WTO.

“He (the Prime Minister) was very supportive of multilateralism. He felt that multilateralism should also work for developing countries and we both agreed on that,” she added.

“I conveyed to him my objective of really trying to work with members to revitalise the WTO and to strengthen the WTO. I asked for general support for a successful MC12 and he also asked for support for India’s objective and the objectives of developing countries,” she said.

Many people believe that voices of only developed countries are heard in the WTO and not that of developing nations, so “I wanted to make sure that it is not like that during my time and developing countries’ voices will also be heard,” she said.

The other objective of this visit, she said, was to discuss the upcoming MC12 and to seek India’s support to make sure that there is a good outcome from that meeting.

“India is a leader. India has a strong voice in the WTO and If we have to have a successful MC12, India’s leadership is very important,” she added.

On India’s demands for finding a permanent solution to the public stockholding of food, the director general said she totally understands the country’s food security concerns.

“India is a large country and when you have a large country, you will be concerned about food security issues,” she said, adding a peace clause is there and that is good news for India.

Asked whether Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs) have taken over the entire narrative of the WTO, she replied in the negative, adding multilateral issues have not taken a back seat.

“Absolutely not. Have you heard me talking about JSIs? What you heard me talking about is the multilateral negotiations. That is why we must succeed with multilaterals. We must push hard to get multilateral negotiations completed,” she added.

JSIs are essentially plurilateral negotiating tools adopted by a group of WTO members who start negotiations on certain issues, as opposed to adhering to consensus-based decision-making.

There are differences of opinion between the members on JSIs as some like India do not believe in their legality, while there are others who want to use these tools to tackle emerging issues.

The WTO Director General was here on a three-day visit that ended on Friday.