WTO Summit: India to take up trade protectionism issue with US, says Prabhu

Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu

India on Tuesday said it will bilaterally take up the issue of recent trade protectionism measures imposed by the US.

Addressing a press conference after the Informal WTO Ministerial Meeting here, Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu said: "Every country will have a different response to it. We are obviously not the largest exporter of steel or aluminium to the US."

"We will take it up with the US, with whom we have a huge trade surplus and we have a very good political relationship. We will take up this with them bilaterally."

The assertion by the minister assumes significance as recently the US slapped import tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium, unfolding the prospect of an all-out global trade war.

According to WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, the recent trade protectionist measures by the US have major potential for escalation.

"I have said very publicly, that I am very concerned and I think the institution itself could say the same, because these measures, for whatever reason, have a very major potential for escalation because of the possibility of responses from other partners with trade restrictive measures as well and that, I think, is something we should avoid," he said.

"That's what I heard today, many many countries saying we have a concern with this. We have to proceed very carefully and try to work within the framework of WTO... because I think that's the only way we can avoid a very disruptive and unpredictable scenario in global trade."

Azevedo went on to say that despite differences member countries expressed their strong support for the WTO system.

Prabhu also said that "food security" issue was also discussed at the meeting during which "talks were held in a free and frank" manner and that although there are differences among countries, there is no substitute to dialogue.

The minister had earlier said that India is a strong supporter and believer in the WTO framework and is strongly committed to see the organisation is strengthened.

New Delhi hosted the largest Informal WTO Ministerial Meeting which began on Tuesday. The meeting was attended by delegates from 52 countries, including WTO Director General Azevedo.

This is the second WTO mini-ministerial meeting being hosted by India, after the first in 2009 and it took place after the collapse of the WTO Buenos Aires ministerial talks in December last year.

The talks at the 11th ministerial conference at Buenos Aires broke down as the US reneged on its commitment, along with other countries, to find a permanent solution to the issue of public food stockholding by members of the multilateral trade body.

The US representative to the WTO talks declared in a small group meeting that a permanent solution to the food stockholding issue was not acceptable to America.

Under the WTO norms, a member country's food subsidy bill should not breach the limit of 10 per cent of the value of production based on the reference price of 1986-88.

India has been seeking amendments to this formula, fearing that full implementation of its food security programme may result in breaching of the WTO subsidy limit.

At the Buenos Aires ministerial, India continued to press for the reduction of farm subsidies by developed countries and resisted inclusion of new issues on the negotiating table like e-commerce and investment facilitation into the ongoing Doha Round of talks that have a developmental agenda, if in case these dilute the commitment to complete the existing agenda.

Azevedo added that Tuesday's meeting was the first opportunity to have a conversation at the political level after Buenos Aires and that all the members realised the seriousness of the situation and have recognised that solutions will have to be worked out through collective effort.

Earlier in the day, ministers and senior dignitaries who attended the Informal WTO Ministerial Meeting called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Welcoming the dignitaries, he expressed confidence that the deliberations at the Informal WTO Ministerial Meeting would have been constructive.

Modi also reiterated India's commitment to a rule-based multilateral trading system, based on the principles of inclusiveness and consensus. He said that a robust conflict resolution mechanism is one of the key benefits of the WTO.


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