Ministerial meeting of WTO begins in New Delhi

Representatives from 50 countries will be gathering in New Delhi on 19-20 March for an informal World Trade Organization ministerial meeting

Leading the war against protectionism

While WTO members are expected to renew their backing for a rule-based global trading system amid rising concerns over protectionism, following recent United States action to raise import duty on aluminium and steel and also initiate more measures, there are indications that the issue will dominate the meeting.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, participating in an informal mini-ministerial meeting of the members of the WTO in New Delhi, said that the United States wants some upgrades in the rules and functioning of the trade body, which was set up in 1995.

Azevedo said Washington maintained that global trade had changed since the WTO, which deals with the global rules of trade between nations, was set up in 1995.

"We have the dispute settlement system compromised by a blockage in the appointment of appellate members and this will be the focus of conversation in New Delhi", Mr Azevedo told media ahead of the start of the two-day meeting.

Mr. Azevedo added that the trade environment globally was very risky at the moment and that the WTO was facing challenges from both within and outside.

Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia had said recently that the meeting would be more of an "ice-breaker" as it is being held after the collapse of talks at the Buenos Aires WTO Ministerial in December.

In a sharp remark, one trade envoy, who did not want to be identified, said, "After killing the Doha Development Round trade negotiations and giving up on development, concerted attempts are being made now to water down the dispute settlement system to an extent that would be acceptable to the one major member". While India is keen to bring up the issue of rising protectionist tariff measures by Washington, the U.S. has expressed concerns over the trade body's functioning and sought reforms. President Trump has called the WTO a "catastrophe".

About seven of the invitees will be represented at the Ministers' level while more than 30 invitees have assigned their political representatives to attend the meeting.

He said the outcome of the meeting here will be "useful to the conversations that we will be having in Geneva to try and move forward on all the items".

The meet will will provide an opportunity for free and frank discussions to representatives from several developed and developing countries on several complex issues.

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