NEW DELHI: India has begun framing its position on new issues including on ecommerce, small and medium enterprises, and investment at the World Trade Organisation, as it faces immense pressure from developed countries to start a discussion. The WTO ministerial meeting will be held in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires in December 2017.
Until now, India has vehemently opposed the inclusion of new issues in the multilateral organisation unless the existing one related to food security and special safeguard mechanism (SSM) are resolved.
“Developed countries want outcomes on small and medium enterprises, ecommerce, investment and fisheries, but we are still formulating our position. We are pushing for trade facilitation in services,” said a commerce ministry official.
At the last ministerial in Nairobi, developed countries were successful in clinching the deal away from India by allowing new issues to be taken up in the WTO’s mandate. Developed countries including the US have been pushing for cooperation, information exchange and capacity building for small and medium enterprises.
On fisheries, they want to prohibit subsidies granted for illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and a strict mechanism to assess fish stocks which is not easy for developing countries like India.
India’s concerns on investment becoming part of the WTO agenda pertain to the definition of investment and the investor dispute settlement mechanism.
“India’s stated position is that the Doha issues need to be resolved first. We have to be steadfast on our concerns on SSM and food security,” said Abhijit Das, head of the Centre for WTO Studies at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade.
Ecommerce is the first among the new issues that the developed countries have been pushing to be included in the WTO’s agenda for the next ministerial.
Although India has not favoured ecommerce discussions till now, it has begun studying papers submitted to the WTO on the issue to understand the various views.
“Our policy has not evolved in ecommerce, but in the current situation, how can one avoid talking on ecommerce? We will have to take a position,” the official said.
The government is consulting ecommerce companies operating in the country, but the views emerging from these talks are divergent.
“The Indian ecommerce players do not want opening up or foreign companies to come here freely, but the foreign companies operating here want some kind of opening. The issue is till how long can we stop (ecommerce) … We will discuss how much we can do,” the official added.
Foreign companies have pressed for liberalised rules for servers, right to recall, fake goods and e-payment issues. Recently, US Trade Representative Michael Froman asked India to open its ecommerce sector to foreign investment.
The US has floated a non-paper on ecommerce prohibiting digital customs duties, enabling cross-border data flows, promoting a free and open Internet, and preventing localisation barriers.