Reviving WTO

  • IASbaba
  • October 23, 2020
  • 0
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Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.

Reviving WTO

Context:  The WTO is on the verge of getting fresh top leadership

Challenges of WTO

  • Backlash Against Globalisation: There is a backlash against globalisation, free trade and by extension, against international organisations such as WTO.
  • New Negotiating positions by Nations: People who have lost out from technological disruption, globalisation or free trade have found an important voice and have started asserting themselves through political choices made in national elections (electing conservative parties/people to power). These changes are subsequently reflected in country negotiating positions in the WTO.
  • Restoring Faith of common man: WTO has to demonstrate that it is on the side of the underdog i.e. it’s mission is to enhance the conditions of poor people and not further the agenda of corporates
  • To build New Agenda: It is common knowledge that the Doha Round of trade negotiations has long been dead. The new task for WTO is to build a consensus around a new common work programme and a negotiating agenda.

One solution to overcome above challenges is by announcing that the WTO’s future work programme and negotiating agenda will be based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) so painstakingly agreed upon by all UN members in 2015.

A new SDG round of trade negotiations has numerous advantages for the WTO.

  • First, it is hard to disagree with the SDGs themselves since all countries have publicly committed themselves to achieving it within a definite time frame
  • Second, it will be a splendid opportunity for the much-maligned WTO to get its mojo back and secure endorsement for the principle of free trade. After all, it is a matter of consensus among economists of all hues that trade is indeed the best instrument for achieving many of the SDGs.
  • Third, the WTO’s future work programme and negotiating agenda must be directly linked to the objectives of the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO, which talks of promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth as well as full and productive employment and decent work for all.

What Steps should WTO take in future?

  1. Recalibrating Special treatments
  • The WTO must carefully recalibrate the Special and Differential Treatment for countries that deserve it.
  • The two geographical regions which display “extreme poverty” are: parts of Africa and South Asia. It goes without saying therefore that countries belonging to these two geographical regions must get Special and Differential Treatment without any question.
  • Extreme poverty is now well defined and is backed by the Oxford Multidimensional Index of Poverty, so objective criteria may be utilised for deciding countries which are eligible. 
  • This automatically takes care of the American argument that countries such as Singapore and South Korea (or China for that matter) cannot lay automatic claim to Special and Differential Treatment.
  1. Conclude negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies
  • The multilateral negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies is proceeding apace and must be concluded by the next Ministerial Conference in June 2021. 
  • Again, these negotiations must be consistent with SDG-14 which is defined thus: Conserve and use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. 
  • Developing countries and least-developed countries whose citizens depend on fisheries for their livelihood must be treated appropriately in these negotiations.
  1. Correct Agriculture Subsidies
  • Agriculture has always been a contentious subject in past WTO negotiations.
  • SDG-2 provides sufficient guidance in this critical area: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. 
  • The US, EU and other rich countries have long subsidised their agriculture, often with disastrous consequences for the economies of developing and least-developed countries. It is time to make amends.
  1. Electronic Commerce
  • Electronic Commerce poses enormous challenges for developing and least-developed countries. These challenges have to do with digital infrastructure, digital literacy and data sovereignty. 
  • The SDG-9 that talks of building resilient infrastructure, promotes inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation, should guide these negotiations. 
  • Developed countries need to take into account the serious digital divide that currently exists when they pursue their national interests in these negotiations.


  • The above is obviously not an exhaustive list but an illustrative one. 
  • More crucially, it provides a template for the new round of trade negotiations and the work programme of the WTO by anchoring it in the all-important SDGs. 
  • Such a move can kill two birds with one stone: to revive the negotiating agenda as well as to resuscitate the WTO itself.

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