India set off highest trade restricting measures among G20 nations: WTO

World Trade Organization
A report by the World Trade Organization (WTO) has shown that India has initiated far more number of measures widely considered to be ‘trade restricting’ since last year, when the US and China began locking horns on a global trade war spanning hundreds of billions of dollars.

Released on Thursday, the latest report on the changes made by G20 economies in their trade policy showed that in the assessment period of mid-October 2017 to mid-May 2018, nations in the grouping imposed more than 37 barriers to trade, including tariff increases, stricter Customs procedures, imposition of taxes, and export duties. 

However, among these, India led the pack by initiating measures restricting trade on 16 separate occasions, while similar measures from China or the US were registered twice each. However, India was also the nation with the highest count of measures taken to facilitate trade - at 28 much higher than the two taken by China.

While the WTO is careful to mention that these imply “no judgement by the WTO Secretariat on whether or not such measure, or its intent, is protectionist in nature”, they are widely considered to be to so by richer nations and the WTO itself.

“The WTO started bringing out this particular report back in 2008 and added anti-dumping duties and countervailing duties as trade restrictive practices. India back then was one of the largest users of such measures, which should be properly classified as trade defence measures. Such measures are the legitimate rights of a nation if it aims to curb illegal dumping of products or reduce wide-scale trade distorting subsidies,” Jayant Dasgupta, former Ambassador of India to the WTO, said.

Among the measures initiated by India that have been flagged by WTO, 13 are related to hikes in import tariffs across a broad range of products. India’s imposition of a social welfare surcharge  of 10 per cent on imports, announced in the last national Budget, as well as the introduction of a minimum import price on peppers have been also been noted. 

However, a closer look at the data shows that although trade has been restricted in certain segments, the overarching reasons behind a nation doing so are blatantly obvious. This includes India’s decision to ban the import of seal skins since March. Apparently major nations such as Canada continue commercial hunting of polar fur seals, a species considered to be vulnerable by global conservation agencies.

However, nations at the top of the list may not have imposed restrictions on the broadest number of items or on the highest amount of trade. The WTO report is based on the number of times G20 members informed the Geneva-based secretariat of the multilateral body that it was going to initiate restrictions. “China and the US, in particular, may have a low number of trade restrictive measures against their names, but simply because they had bunched up a large number of products in a single communication to the WTO,” a senior commerce ministry official said.

The G20 is an international forum of the 19 most powerful economies, including the US, India, China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Brazil, and the European Union. In 2008, it superseded the G8 as the main economic council of wealthy nations, vowing to streamline economic policies based on free trade and globalisation.

The report pointed out that the pace of new restrictions by the WTO has jumped to double that of earlier. Such moves are only expected to grow as the fight between the two largest economies continues to spiral out. Starting from midnight, the first round of tariff hikes on $34 billion worth of US imports from China are set to go live.