WTO signs landmark deal after nearly a decade

The set of trade agreements includes commitments on food security, balanced outcomes on fisheries subsidies and pandemic response – all issues of importance to developing countries.

A major decision regarding patent exemptions on Covid-19 vaccines is also expected soon, with the US yet to officially seal it.

The deal survived the last-minute hiccups on Thursday night that threatened to derail an outcome on fisheries and TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

The deal in which the negotiating skills of Indian Trade Minister Piyush Goyal prompted several compromises between developed and developing countries over the two nights of marathon talks, exceeding Thursday afternoon’s deadline.

“All agreements have been fully agreed and signed unanimously. The decision on temporary patent exemption (TRIPS) is expected any time. We are just waiting for US approval,” said an official source in Geneva.

According to sources, Prime Minister Narendra Modi actively oversaw the negotiations through the ministerial meeting in Geneva.

India defended its right to extend subsidies to its fishermen, removing controversial clauses from the text at the last minute. India, in turn, agreed to an 18-month extension of the moratorium on customs duties on electronic imports, which it says is to the benefit of rich countries.

A formal announcement on all of these issues is likely to be made any time soon.

One of the sources said for the first time that the reduction of overfishing, deep-sea fishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is being addressed through the proposed pact.

“In India, sovereign faces on EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zones) are firmly established. It is really a great achievement,” they said, adding key stakeholders who have benefited from these “historic decisions” taken by the 12th Ministerial Conference of the United Nations. WTO are fishermen, farmers, food security, multilateralism, and trade and business, especially the digital economy and SMEs.

The patent exemption and the fisheries agreement almost fell through with last-minute hurdles and objections from a group of countries. While the UK put the patent waiver agreement on hold for five hours pending approval from the capital, the US and China still took a few hours to resolve the eligibility issue under the pact. The fisheries deal nearly slipped after African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states demanded a stronger deal, trying to re-include the removed portions that put restrictions on subsidies that contributed to overfishing and overcapacity.

India’s key demand for a permanent solution to the public storage of food grains will now be answered at the next ministerial meeting.

The Covid-19 Vaccine Patent Exemption Agreement will allow India and other eligible developing countries to manufacture and export vaccines without the consent of the original maker, as well as to ship them to other countries in need for a period of five years. export. New Delhi believes it will help its companies set up more factories in different countries.

While it will save lives in some of the poorest countries, it could also help Indian companies set up more factories in different countries.

According to people aware of the developments, when the talks broke down on Wednesday, India took on the role of mediator and contacted several countries, including the US and South Africa, to work out results. Goyal held a series of bilateral and small group meetings to try and get all countries on board just as talks stalled.

Under the revised draft text for fisheries revised by Mint, the two controversial clauses proposing a ban on overfishing subsidies within seven years have been dropped. India wanted a transition period of 25 years instead of seven to withdraw such aid. The talks took place against the background of several Indian fishermen who traveled to Geneva and protested.

The current agreement only concerns the elimination of harmful subsidies to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.

In the latest leg, India clearly indicated that it would agree to extend the moratorium on customs duties on digital imports if the “ultimate package of MC12” served the interests of India and developing countries.

The agreement states that the current moratorium on customs duties on digital imports will remain in effect until December 31, 2023. So far, the moratorium has been extended every two years since 1998, preventing countries from imposing tariffs on digital or electronic imports or transmissions.

However, India has limited the extension to just a year and a half this time. “If Ministerial Conference 13 is postponed beyond March 31, 2024, the moratorium will expire on that date, unless ministers or the General Council decide to extend,” reads the final text reviewed by Mint.

“It has restored multilateralism. India took on an important leadership role and was the voice of the developing countries and the LDCs (Least Developed Countries). The developing countries built a consensus and offered solutions from time to time during the various sessions to break any deadlock and meetings,” they added.

Decision-making on all issues reflects camaraderie between developed and developing countries.

“There was a great team effort as we agreed on the issues. The concerns of the ACP region (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries) were fully addressed in the fisheries decision,” said the source.

In the field of agriculture, India has agreed to lift export restrictions on procurement by the UN World Food Programme, provided it will have the flexibility to limit it if there is a domestic need for food security. India’s other demand to allow exports of its public supplies to needy countries on a government-to-government basis will be discussed along with other agricultural issues at the next ministerial conference.

The last time the WTO made a major trade decision was in 2013, when it agreed to India’s demand for a ‘peace clause’ on the controversial issue of public stock acquisitions.

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