World trade talks in Buenos Aires to Address Digital Trade and E-commerce, But Not If India Can Help It
The 11th Ministerial Conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organization starts over the weekend and this year’s edition is promising to be a crossroad for global trade’s future. The attendants in Buenos Aires are expected to move forward on the following issues: trade in non-agricultural goods and services, e-commerce, facilitation of investment and measures to help small firms participate effectively in the global marketplace.
The biannual gathering of the highest decision-making body of the WTO is taking place at a critical moment in the free trade movement with many countervailing interests. In the US, President Trump’s administration declared to be unwilling to negotiate outcomes harming America or their protectionist agenda. With Brexit on one hand in Europe and Merkel’s current troubles along with a weakened EU on the other, the continent also seems to be wavering in its interest in free trade. The other big player, China, is still facing opposition to be recognised as a market economy.
But where China traditionally remains silent about its ambitions, India is more openly banging its drum.
India has marked food security rights and the protection of poor farmers and fisherfolk as their top priorities for the upcoming negotiations. It wants a durable solution for the issue of “public stockholding for food security”. India claims that current WTO norms on public stockholding are too restrictive, causing governments to put people’s food security at risk. Another topic India wants to see resolved is the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) for developing countries. The SSM would permit India to temporarily raise tariffs to counter import surges or price declines of farm items, and thereby protect their farmers.
The next point on India’s agenda is its proposal on a Trade Facilitation in Services (TFS) Agreement, aiming to deregulate the norms for movement of skilled workers and professionals across borders for short-term work.
India has also opposed any talks on cross-border digital trade or e-commerce, but its resistance will be under fire. The EU, Canada and Australia, among others, have proposed WTO to give them the mandate to negotiate the term and set up a taskforce with experts at to conduct preparations. India has maintained that e-commerce may be good for development but states that it’s not convenient to start off talks yet, as many countries won’t fully understand the implications of binding rules.
For developing countries, trade is still considered their “engine of growth.” WTO needs to recognise their concerns about their micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSME’s). Though sometimes locally important, MSMEs’ international share of trade is disproportionately small, often because they are unaware of the potentially wider market and they don’t have resources make it through the sometimes complex trading procedures. New technologies could help countries like India overcome these obstacles and create a more viable environment for smaller companies in international trade and make it more inclusive.
The WTO was set up in 1995 to regulate international trade in goods, services and intellectual property between participating countries and resolute disputes, providing a framework of agreements. Its key mission is to increase global trade. In general, there’s a worldwide agreement among economists that trade leads to growth, The WTO encourages countries to lower measurements against imports.
The talks will start on December 10 in Buenos Aires and will be over three days, where the 164 member countries of the WTO will meet to discuss matters under multilateral trade agreements and current policies. Buenos Aires is one of the most vibrant business cities in Latin America with multiple incentives aimed at facilitating tech businesses and startups. Recently, Reuters reported that the city government of Buenos Aires has initiated a seed fund program open to all nations called IncuBAte that provides startups up to $30,000 in funding, mentoring programs and free office space for 12 months.
Similarly, it is hoped that successful trade talks by the WTO can more easily facilitate fertile ground for startups despite countervailing interests among the world’s superpowers.