IUST: India Claims Victory In Nairobi By Preserving Its Key Priorities From Doha

With the future negotiating agenda of the World Trade Organization shrouded in uncertainty, India is framing the Nairobi ministerial as a success because it was able to ensure that three of its key priorities from the Doha Round will remain on the table. They are the special safeguard mechanism (SSM), the permanent solution on public stockholding for food security purposes, and the concept of special and differential treatment for developing countries.

Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman highlighted these three victories on Dec. 19 in comments to reporters after the closing session of the ministerial and in a series of posts on her official Twitter account.

She touted as an additional victory what she said was a commitment by WTO members in Nairobi to continue work on all “unfinished pillars” of the Doha round.

This is a likely reference to Paragraph 31 of the Nairobi ministerial declaration, which states that there remains a “strong commitment of all Members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues. This includes advancing work in all three pillars of agriculture, namely domestic support, market access and export competition, as well as non-agriculture market access, services, development, [The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] and rules.”

“We ensured that we put in a line saying all unfinished business of DDA and that was also because of the struggle that India put forth,” Sitharaman told reporters.

While members agreed on this language in the ministerial declaration, they were unable to agree on whether to reaffirm the Doha round. The U.S. has interpreted this lack of consensus as meaning the Doha round is dead, freeing up WTO members to pursue new approaches to Doha issues as well as new issues like electronic commerce.

But other WTO members such as India have made clear they will continue to push for the conclusion of the Doha round based on the existing architecture as set out in the various ministerial decisions and declarations since the round was launched in 2001.

The lack of agreement on the way forward makes it all the more significant that India was able to ensure that the SSM and public stockholding remained in the negotiating agenda, along with the principle of special and differential treatment.

Sitharaman told reporters that the SSM was “not even in the cards” when members arrived in Nairobi, but that India fought hard to ensure that it remained on the WTO agenda.

WTO ministers agreed on a decision in Nairobi that reaffirms the right of developing countries to an SSM that would allow them to snap back tariffs on imports of agricultural products if there are import surges or price decreases. The decision also states that WTO members shall pursue negotiations on the SSM in dedicated sessions of the agriculture negotiating group.

“I ensured that it was brought on the agenda, and the decision was taken to reaffirm the right of countries to have a special safeguard mechanism because that's important for countries like India who are unable to face the surge of imports,” Sitharaman said.

The Nairobi decision maintains the linkage between the SSM and agricultural market access established in Paragraph 7 of the Hong Kong declaration by citing that paragraph, even though India coming into the ministerial had taken the position that developing countries should be entitled to the SSM independent from a market access outcome.

Paragraph 7, which concerns agricultural market access negotiations, states that “[d]eveloping country Members will also have the right to have recourse to a special safeguard mechanism based on import quantity and price triggers, with precise arrangements to be further defined.”

Sitharaman did not respond directly when asked whether India views the SSM as linked to market access, instead citing the reference to paragraph 7 as ensuring that developing countries will get an SSM.

On public stockholding, India secured a ministerial decision in Nairobi that reaffirms an existing “peace clause” for such programs agreed at the 2013 ministerial and a subsequent November 2014 General Council decision.

The Nairobi decision also states that negotiations on the permanent solution on stockholding will take place in the agriculture negotiating group “in dedicated sessions and in an accelerated time-frame, distinct from the agriculture negotiations under Doha Development Agenda."

India has long sought a permanent solution that would exempt from WTO subsidy limits support provided to farmers through public stockholding programs under which developing country governments purchase commodities at a higher price than the reference price set out in the Uruguay Round Agriculture Agreement.

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