WTO seeks solution, may see some trade-offs in play

GENEVA: With the ministerial meeting extended by a day, WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Wednesday got down to sitting with a select group of countries to identify issue-wise concerns and find a solution, amid indications that some tradeoffs are possible.

For instance, India may agree to patents waiver for vaccine in the ministerial outcome if therapeutics and devices also get TRIPS flexibilities in the next six months, an issue that Switzerland is still opposing. But, India is working with South Africa, which was co-sponsor of the proposal, to seek a better outcome as talks enter the home run. Alimited deal on fisheries subsidies, meant to check illegal, unreported and unregulated, is on the table as the negotiators have lowered the ambition on a full package.

Similarly, on agriculture, tough Sri Lanka, Egypt and India may force developed countries to agree to government-to-government sale of grains from public stock, such as with FCI. Rich nations are seeking a text that provides for an exemption from export curbs to World Food Programme.

It is, however, unclear how a key demand from India — permanent solution to its MSP-related issues under what is called public stockholding — will be addressed, given that commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal has demanded its reiteration in the outcome document and the US has suggested that a decision on the issue will be taken by the next ministerial.

India has also insisted that WTO should not provide any legitimacy to talks on services and investment, which are taking place between a group of countries and have not been accepted by all members.