Sticking to its stand that no deal is better than a bad deal, India has expressed strong objections to the current negotiating texts on key issues at the ongoing World Trade Organisation (WTO’s) 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in Geneva, Switzerland. What pushed India to take a hard line is the fact that the country’s positions on WTO’s pandemic response in terms of a temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights, fisheries subsidies, and a permanent solution to the public stockholding of food grains issue, are not reflecting in the draft texts that are being negotiated.

Addressing the co-sponsors of the IP waiver proposal on June 14, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal blasted the developed world members for limiting the waiver proposals to Covid-19 vaccines and ignoring the demand from India, South Africa and dozens of other countries that all therapeutics and diagnostics used during the pandemic time should be included in the waiver proposal. “Vaccines have already lost relevance, 2 years they (developed countries) spent without giving any solutions and it is too late, not even a situation where you can say better late than never, it’s just too late. There is no demand for vaccines anymore. So rather, let us pitch for the final decision, collective and holistic decision, and not get conned into accepting a sub-optimal stage 1 (waiver on Covid-19 vaccines), knowing full well that the stage 2 (larger waiver framework as a template for future pandemics) will never happen,” Goyal said.

“Our hope and desire was that this (vaccine waiver) will be the beginning and in 6 months we will decide over therapeutics and diagnostics. I am sorry to share with you that in some bilateral that I have had with the developed world and some of the countries who are opposing this in a way, they have almost clearly hinted and indicated that IP rights are extremely important, we (developed nations) are flowing with wind only because of the international pressure but on diagnostics and therapeutics there is no way we are going to yield,” he added.

The thematic session on agriculture the same day saw Goyal term the draft ministerial decisions on agriculture ‘expansive’ which goes beyond the Doha Round mandate and does not acknowledge the progress achieved so far. “We are in a situation, where the temporary declarations are not going to help the countries rather the permanent solution to public stock holding, pending for more than 9 years, is not yet being taken up for closure,” Goyal pointed out. According to him, the WTO is currently discussing the rules of an agreement (Agreement on Agriculture) largely suited to the developed countries.
“It is ironical that the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) provides considerable flexibility to the developed members to provide huge subsidies in the form of Aggregate Measure of Support (AMS) and further, to concentrate these subsidies on a few products, without limit, but the same flexibilities are not available to the majority of the developing countries including LDC,” Goyal said.

On the fisheries front, the current negotiating text is not providing a level-playing field to the developing nations to address the aspirations of the traditional fishers and their livelihood, Goyal said during his interventions at the fisheries subsidies negotiations. “Several million fishers, nearly 9 million families in India depend on assistance and support from the government, for their livelihood. Any decision not to provide space for small-scale and traditional fishers to expand their capabilities would only rip away their future opportunities”, he stated.

With India sticking to its stand on behalf of the developing and the least developed world, a concrete outcome from MC12 looks difficult.

Meanwhile a group of civil society organisations has openly supported India’s position. “The usual blame game has begun at WTO’s MC 12 as governments of developed countries face some spirited resistance to their relentless and shameless demands seeking to profit at the cost of people, health, lives and livelihood. We understand that India in particular is being blamed for ‘blocking progress’ in negotiations. The fact is that India has been fighting for the cause of billions of poor people in the negotiations in the field of public stockholding, fisheries and TRIPS waiver. It has hit the very floor, beyond which nothing more can be compromised, rather it will be unethical to do so. India must not feel isolated or feel pressure” a joint statement from Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, Third World Network India, IT For Change, Bharatiya Kisan Union, Great Mission Group and Council for International Economic Understanding said.

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