In remarks seemingly aimed at key developing countries, including China and India, US trade representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer on Monday suggested some nations are given “a pass in the name of self-proclaimed development status” at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Without providing any evidence to endorse his assertion, Lighthizer claimed that five of the six richest nations seek the “developing country” status, inviting subtle rebuttal for such an overtly simplistic assessment. In fact, only China has the developing market status among the world’s top six economies. Speaking at the 11th WTO ministerial in Buenos Aires, commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu said: “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. Therefore, we are legitimate demandeurs for special and differential treatment for developing countries.”
According to a forecast by global rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P), India’s per capital income would touch $2,000 in 2017, the lowest among all investment-grade sovereigns, even though it will emerge as the fastest-growing major economy over 2017-20. In fact, S&P recently kept its India rating unchanged at the lowest investment grade, citing low per capital income, among others. Without naming any nation, Prabhu sought to remind developed countries that many of them have “benefitted from long periods of derogation from GATT rules in the area of agriculture and textiles”.
Earlier in the day, Lighthizer said: “There is something wrong, in our view, when five of the six richest countries in the world presently claim developing country status.” “Indeed, we should all be troubled that so many members appear to believe that they would be better off with exemptions to the rules. If in the opinion of a vast majority of members playing by current WTO rules makes it harder to achieve economic growth, then clearly serious reflection is needed,” the USTR said.
Lighthizer said the WTO is losing its focus on trade negotiations in favor of litigation, reflecting the Trump administration’s critical attitude towards the multilateral trading body.