Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu today asserted that India is the right candidate for special and differential treatment by the WTO, rejecting US criticism of countries bypassing rules in the name of self-proclaimed development status.
Special and differential treatment is an integral part of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the ground reality that some countries have low per capita income cannot be ignored, Prabhu said at a press meet.
The minister was fielding questions over issues of special and differential treatment as raised by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in his address at the plenary of the 11th ministerial conference of the WTO.
"We need to clarify our understanding of development within the WTO. We cannot sustain a situation in which new rules can only apply to the few, and that others will be given a pass in the name of self-proclaimed development status. There is something wrong, in our view, when five of the six richest countries in the world presently claim developing country status," Lighthizer had said.
Special and differential treatment, Prabhu said in his response, "is an important component of the WTO... You cannot ignore realities that certain societies have been left behind in the process of development."
Developing nations, including India, he said, "are legitimate demandeurs for special and differential treatment... It is also noteworthy that many developed countries of today have benefited from long periods of derogation from GATT rules in the area of agriculture and textiles".
In his address at the plenary, Prabhu also expressed concern over the way the discourse at the WTO is being deflected by arguments based on GDP of countries.
"We are increasingly seeing that the discourse on development at the WTO is sought to be deflected by specious arguments based on aggregate GDP figures.
"While in India, we are proud of our GDP and growth rates of recent years, propelled by innovative economic policies of my government, we cannot ignore that India is home to more than 600 million poor people," Prabhu added.
The minister underlined the need for protecting the WTO as a platform for promoting trade in transparent and democratic manner, stressing that commerce ought to promote development and eliminate social problems like poverty.
About food security issues, the minister said he was only reminding the WTO members about the commitments made at the Bali conference that they would come out with a permanent solution to the problem by December 2017 at the 11th ministerial.
According to Prabhu, the asymmetry on provision of agriculture subsidies between developed and developing countries under the WTO norms ought to be addressed.
Taking questions on e-commerce, the minister observed that while taking up new issues for negotiations, the due process established by the members should be followed.On the possible impact of the proposed tax reforms in the US on global economy, which many feel could violate the WTO rules, the minister pointed to the dispute settlement panel of the multilateral trade body as an option available to aggrieved member nations.