India has expressed proposed several changes to the draft proposal prepared under the leadership of New Zealand Ambassador David Walker—the person designated by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) General Council’s chair as a facilitator responsible for leading WTO members in finding a multilateral and horizontal response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the major issues India has with the ‘Walker Process’—aimed at getting members agree to a ‘WTO response to the Covid-19 pandemic’—is that it completely ignores developing country concerns, like ensuring food security, in the wake of a pandemic. Trade experts, who are keenly observing ongoing WTO negotiations in the run-up to the forthcoming Ministerial Conference in Geneva, have said that India has asked for more flexibility in the WTO rules to provide easy access to medicines, technologies, and services—that can help member countries that are in pandemic induced distress (India, South Africa and several other countries are also independently pushing for a waiver of intellectual property rights (IPR) of products meant for Covid-19 diagnostics, treatment and management.). India is also known to have urged the WTO to look at every restriction imposed by member nations to avoid non-trade barriers for free movement of Covid-19 related products and services, experts say.

The 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of WTO is scheduled to take place from 30 November to 3 December in Geneva, Switzerland.

Incidentally, a recent briefing note from the Third World Network (TWN)—a Malaysia based advocacy firm that focuses on the issues of the developing world—had cautioned the developing country bloc of WTO that outcome of the Walker Process, once adopted in its current form could set the stage for reshaping the multilateral trading system in the interest of the most powerful, including corporate lobbies.

The TWN briefing note also says that Walker is pushing trade facilitation and regulatory coherence in a way that undermines developing countries’ flexibilities under the existing rules, and further limits regulatory space. “It is promoting services liberalisation as one of the answers to the pandemic; limiting the ability to use export restrictions that are currently allowed under WTO rules; pushing an expansive notification and monitoring regime that will further put pressure on developing countries in implementing their trade policies; opening the door wider for the private sector’s influence on WTO processes under the claim of expanding collaborations with other international organizations and other stakeholders with a specific mention of the private sector”, the note reads.

The draft text will undergo changes till the last minute. TWN says that the appealing name of ‘WTO response to the Covid-19 pandemic’ should not be manipulated (by developed nations) as a further pressure tool on (developing countries) delegations to feel compelled not to refuse the outcome, despite not getting the chance to meaningfully participate in deliberating it, and the content not reflecting their views or potentially becoming very damaging for their interests.

WTO response to the Covid-19 pandemic is the most keenly awaited outcome of MC12—as it is expected to finalise a road map for WTO’s 164 nation members to tide over the economic and social distress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and help them face future pandemics.

The Ministerial Conference—which is attended by trade ministers and other senior officials from the organization’s 164 members—is the highest decision-making body of the WTO. Under the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO, the Ministerial Conference is to meet at least once every two years.

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