India holds the key at WTO - its new chief shows why

India holds the key at WTO - its new chief shows why
The WTO will try to address issues such as public stockholding and investment facilitation – which concern India and some other developing countries.Courtesy: Getty Images

Dr Okonjo-Iweala holds first bilateral interaction of her term with Indian mission in Geneva.

A quick visit by the newly appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to the Indian mission in Geneva and some encouraging comments from her on the global commerce body’s views vis-a-vis India have provided a new momentum in New Delhi’s trade relations with the international community.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – who assumed office as the first woman and the first African head of WTO earlier this week – called on the Indian mission in Geneva on Wednesday, the first bilateral interaction she had following her appointment as the head of the global body. “We were the first country she decided to meet bilaterally and preferred the meeting at our place,” said the Indian mission in a statement. Apart from meeting the Indian Ambassador Brajendra Navnit, Dr Okonjo-Iweala also held discussions with ambassadors of Colombia, South Africa and Canada.

Raising fresh hopes

If that’s an indication of things to come at the WTO in the months ahead, then Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s statements about India have also raised fresh hopes of the country being able to break policy deadlocks of decades.

An added bonus for India when it comes to such consensus building in the WTO will be WTO chief Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s personal equation with Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal.
An added bonus for India when it comes to such consensus building in the WTO will be WTO chief Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s personal equation with Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal.Courtesy: Getty Images

Addressing concerns that India has consistently raised at the global platform, Dr Okonjo-Iweala said that the WTO will try to address issues such as public stockholding and investment facilitation – which concern India and some other developing countries.

“India has tabled some objections to new issues. Notwithstanding that, some members have decided to come together to discuss them. What surprises me is the significant number of members who are already discussing some of these issues,” the WTO chief said in an interview with Times of India.

“India said something very important about the digital economy and e-commerce, the two areas in which it is very advanced. It has spoken about the digital divide, which makes a lot of sense. We should try to find out what this digital divide is.”
- Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General, WTO

Concerns over digital divide

Supporting India’s concerns on digital divide, Dr Okonjo-Iweala said the issue must be explored in-depth further. “India said something very important about the digital economy and e-commerce, the two areas in which it is very advanced. It has spoken about the digital divide, which makes a lot of sense. We should try to find out what this digital divide is,” she said.

Expressing hope that the WTO will be able to achieve some tangible results in the year ahead, Dr Okonjo-Iweala said such forward movement will need the whole-hearted cooperation of each member of the organisation.

“India is such a force. I have extreme respect for India and what it does,” she said.

“Our organization faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make the WTO stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today,” said the Nigerian-American economist and a former two-time finance minister in a statement following her appointment to the WTO.

India has indicated that it is likely to take a more accommodative approach on the proposed WTO agreement on investment facilitation. The agreement aims to increase transparency and predictability of investment measures and requirements.
India has indicated that it is likely to take a more accommodative approach on the proposed WTO agreement on investment facilitation. The agreement aims to increase transparency and predictability of investment measures and requirements.Courtesy: Reuters

Investment facilitation deal

While global commerce has been mired in wrangling over a unified direction in the post-pandemic world, India has indicated that it is likely to take a more accommodative approach on the proposed WTO agreement on investment facilitation. The agreement aims to increase transparency and predictability of investment measures and requirements, increase cooperation, information sharing and exchange best practices and relations with relevant stakeholders. The backers of the agreement had advocated a discussion on the matter in the run up to the 11th WTO Ministerial meeting last December, but no consensus was reached on the same.

An added bonus for India when it comes to such consensus building in the WTO will be Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s personal equation with Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal. Speaking about the minister, the WTO chief said he had always been on point in conversations with her, adding that “he is somebody I have tremendous respect for”.

With a solid foundation prepared, all eyes will now be on the informal WTO ministerial on March 19-20 – organised by Goyal’s ministry – to discuss the way ahead for negotiations on the investment facilitation agreement and how India can optmise the benefits from it.

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