India attended an informal gathering of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministers in Paris on May 31. The Indian delegation at the event was led by the country’s Commerce and Industry Minister, Suresh Prabhu. The event also saw the participation of 28 member countries from within the WTO group as well as by the Director General of the intergovernmental trade body, Roberto Azevedo. In his intervention, Mr Prabhu asserted the importance of such gatherings and observed that there were already a number of ministerial mandates to guide work at the WTO and negotiators have been working on many issues. The latest WTO ministerial comes after India hosted an informal mini-ministerial in New Delhi on March 20, to discuss the future of WTO and global trade. The Indian meet was hosted by Mr Prabhu, and attended by Director-General Azevedo, as well as representatives from 52 countries, including the USA and China.

India has traditionally been an active supporter and campaigner for multilateralism, which includes propagating, maintaining and ensuring a consensus-focused and rules-based global trading system. This principle has guided the country’s stand in all its trade negotiations ever since the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was folded into the WTO. In his Paris address, Mr Prabhu cautioned that while some countries viewed plurilateral discussions as a stepping stone to multilateral agreements, such initiatives could, on the contrary, weaken the multilateral trading system and undermine the inclusive institutional structure of the WTO. The Commerce Minister pointed out that there is a work programme for e-commerce which provides a forum for discussion within the WTO. He said that India has been actively engaging in this even though it is premature to discuss binding multilateral rules to do with e-commerce.

Observing that the WTO already has a full agenda, Mr Prabhu said that India had reservations about the introduction of new issues such as Investment Facilitation in the WTO lest fundamental issues in agriculture and development get neglected. The New Delhi meeting was focused on boosting agricultural trade and food security. India’s public stand is that talks on agricultural trade should be prioritized and conclusive because it has a direct bearing on food security and livelihood, especially for the developing countries where a large part of the population depends on agriculture for sustenance. Talks on agriculture trade have been the centrepiece of discussions since the start of WTO’s Doha ministerial in 2001. Stating that trade must contribute to development, Mr Prabhu said in Paris that WTO nations must accord priority to addressing the challenges against greater trade liberalisation and global integration.