Los Angeles, CA – India “has apparently chosen to scuttle the ‘good ship’ WTO-Bali, the first truly multilateral agreement achieved since the founding of the WTO in 1995,” says Dr. Kent Jones, professor of economics at Babson College in Massachusetts.
“This is not the only ship in the WTO fleet, but it is the only one of its kind that has been successfully floated under its multilateral negotiating mandate. It is now taking on water, thereby endangering the entire multilateral trading system,” says Jones, a published author and an acknowledged expert on trade and policy issues who served as a senior economist for trade policy at the US State Department.
India, said Jones, “agreed last December to accept a deal in Bali that combined new rules on trade facilitation with a 2017 timeline on reconciling WTO agricultural rules with India’s food security policies.”
Trade facilitation provisions, he said, “would combine reductions in red tape and improvements in customs logistics with aid for developing countries’ trade infrastructure. The lion’s share of economic welfare gains, estimated at $1 trillion, would flow to developing countries, most of which are not amused at India’s decision to renege on the deal at the last minute.”
India’s system of food subsidies and stockpiling, Jones asserts, “currently runs afoul of WTO agricultural rules, but beyond that requires a wasteful domestic bureaucracy and market distortions that cannot help the poor in a sustainable manner. In addition, it cannot improve agricultural productivity, which is what is really needed for a lasting solution to its food security problem.”
Nonetheless, he adds, “the Bali deal set a moratorium on challenges to such policies until 2017, by which time negotiations on reforming the rules could take place. In the interim, alternatives and compromises could be considered that could allow India’s food security policies to coexist with WTO rules for global markets.”
The new government “feels that this timeline is not good enough, and hopes to hold the globally popular trade facilitation deal hostage in order to force a global agricultural deal immediately that will make its current policy legal under WTO rules. India professes to support trade facilitation, which only lays bare its cynical strategy to renege on its earlier commitments and blame everyone else for failing to re-negotiate,” Jones says.
India’s “strategy of brinkmanship appears not only destructive to the WTO’s credibility as a negotiating forum, but to India’s global interests as well. Most major trading countries are so furious at India for breaking its word at Bali that many are planning to implement trade facilitation outside the regular WTO framework, through bilateral, regional or ‘pluritaleral’ agreements,” he says. “Global WTO agreements are the best way to expand trade, but countries have already shown that they will strike their own deals if WTO negotiations break down.”
According to Jones, “These initiatives outside the WTO would deprive India of any leverage in pursuing agricultural rules reform in its favor, while forfeiting its potential leadership role among developing and emerging economies. Brazil and China, in particular, reportedly criticized India’s veto.”
Without a deal forged in Bali, the “peace clause” preventing disputes against India’s agricultural policies would be suspended, which could lead to trade sanctions. India’s export industries would also suffer from abandoning the WTO negotiations. It stands to lose a lot from this misadventure,” he asserts.
“Indian trade diplomats insist that they have presented viable compromise measures that could lead to a new deal in September,” says Jones.
“Diplomats can always walk back from the brink, but it seems clear that there will be no fundamental renegotiation of what was agreed in Bali last December. By throwing rocks in its own harbors, India’s economy will remain tethered to a costly protectionist regime, while the rest of the world will seek other shores—and negotiating venues.”