Developing nations, including India, are facing a double disadvantage at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), according to a senior government official.

Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said these nations are challenged not only by the lack of a sufficient pool of trade law experts to represent them effectively at the DSB but also by certain efforts to bring within the body’s ambit non-trade issues such as labour and environment.

She was speaking at a function organised by the Centre for WTO Studies at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade on Monday.

Rita Teaotia
Rita Teaotia

The efforts

Ms.Teaotia said, “there have been efforts to include within the DSB, the disputes arising out of decisions in other forums and I am talking about very specifically labour and environment issues.”

She said “such cases would pose a great challenge for developing nations because very often these are conditions that add as restrictions in the freedom of trade particularly for developing countries.”

With the global trade slowdown and the consequent rise in trade restrictive measures taken by many countries, the world is witnessing increasing use of trade remedies (such as anti-dumping duty, safeguard duty and countervailing duty), the official said. She said many of these measures are also ending up as disputes at the DSB.

Building capacity

There are only a few Indian law firms in trade law practice, Ms. Teaotia said. Therefore, to handle India’s trade disputes with other countries, the government has been engaging both international and Indian law firms.

However, she said, “we would like to see an increase in the number of Indian experts” so that the government can rely entirely on local firms to deal with such issues.

The official said the commerce ministry was trying to build capacity to comprehensively track the trade restrictive measures taken by other countries, especially those that hurt India’s exports.

Ms.Teaotia’s comments (on efforts to include non-trade issues in the DSB’s jurisdiction) assume significance as India has been advocating that certain issues, including labour and environment, must be kept out of the WTO’s purview and instead be dealt with by the global bodies concerned such as the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The developed world, however, is keen that the WTO addresses, what they call, global trade’s “new challenges”, including labour and environment.