Informal meeting of WTO countries will help find common ground, say officials

NEW DELHI: The upcoming informal gathering of World Trade Organization (WTO) countries will help find common ground in multilateral negotiations and revive multilateralism, officials privy to the details said. 

India has invited around 50 countries for the two day meeting in March after talks at the eleventh ministerial conference (MC 11) in Buenos Aires collapsed in December. 

It is expected to play a leadership role and give guidance on the way forward on agriculture and services negotiations. WTO director general Roberto Azevedo will also participate in the meeting where cross cutting areas like institutional issues of the multilateral organisation and problems with the appellate bodies would be deliberated. 

"We don’t have work programmes on agriculture and services. Only in fisheries and e-commerce did we get direction in Buenos Aires,” the official added. 

Though New Delhi has invited a host of important countries with varied levels of development across continents, the official said that US, China and the EU are in the process of responding to the invites. 

Commerce ministry will decide the structure and content of the discussion as participating countries leave it to the host to conduct the meeting. 

“Developing countries rarely get the opportunity to host informal WTO gatherings… Countries are supportive of this decision to reinvigorate the talks,” the official added. 

The two day meeting will culminate in a chair’s summary on March 20 that sums up the discussions and the road ahead. The chair’s summary is not legally binding. 

Stakeholder consultation 
A month before the informal gathering, the commerce ministry has planned consultations with experts and stakeholders on February 19-20 where all issues brought up in MC11 would be discussed. 

Many countries had formed informal pressure groups to push a plethora of new issues like e-commerce, investment facilitation and MSMEs in the ambit of the WTO at previous ministerial conference (MC11). Moreover, non-trade issues such as gende .. 

“There are three circles of issues- established issues, the outer circle of new areas and issues with questionable mandate like investment facilitation and MSMEs,” said another official.