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Bharat, United States of America, China, and the WTO

The WTO can be a starting point. The upcoming ministerial conference in the next two years needs a lot of homework to be done by our trade policy practitioners and may be renaming WTO. — Alok Singh


The Bharat, the United States of America (USA), and China have emerged as strategic players in the geo-politics. The USA is the biggest economy equipped with the strongest defense forces and leading technology power. China is dreaming and chasing the USA but post covid pandemic the whole world is openly scrutinizing the Chinese on all the parameters. These two permanent members of the Security Council also have veto power. The Bharat despite being a member without veto power at the United Nations Security Council has emerged as the most trustworthy partner worldwide for everyone. We hence have the best support worldwide in geopolitics as well as geo-economics including geo-trade agreements.

The United States of America conceptualized the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 to meet its dominance in world trade and create wealth for itself at one stroke. The earlier version of WTO came up with Dunkel’s proposal and it was projected as accept it or reject it within the framework of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT). Now the year 2024 witnessed a handicapped WTO in Abu Dhabi without any Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) having zero members in the Appellate Body (AB). In between China entered WTO in the year 2000 and dispersed USA in international trade in general and manufacturing sector in particular.

In the 2024 WTO meeting at Abu Dhabi Bharat dominated the show although there were no concrete satisfying agreements. The time-buying strategy of the moratorium on e-commerce is the single repeated success to be figured out. The status quo on agriculture, and fisheries, and blocking the new China-led non-trade related issues labeled as Investment Facilitation for Development Agreement (IFDA) are notable gains.  

Rashtra Rishi Dattopant Thengdi had predicted two decades ago that the shelf life of WTO would be two decades. WTO’s failure to activate DSB which is dysfunctional since 2019 is signaling the end point of its original character. The glamour of plurilateral agreements on a multilateral trade agreement forum is another reflection that WTO is just of name and is encroaching upon the free trade agreements (FTA) which are usually among two or more groups of countries but not for the whole world.  Thengdi Ji had invocated: Either Break WTO, Quit WTO, or Turn WTO. Now, we are witnessing a broken WTO where everyone is playing their own tunes and originally WTO was designed so that all the decisions have to be taken consciously. We are witnessing a turned WTO where the attempts for plurilateral agreements are louder than multilateral agreements. We are witnessing Quitting WTO where the dispute resolution board is itself absent means being a member or non-member tradeoff is diminishing. 

The Americans are not allowing the revival of AB members. The DSB of the WTO has been a work in progress for many years. It means the big question is “Who Cares” for WTO? The DSB of WTO is the highest body to resolve disputes among the trading members of WTO. So, the members of WTO are trying their best to reactivate it so that one size fits all can be re-accepted but with the Covid pandemic, the philosophy of one size fits all has been discarded, and moving many steps further the member countries are looking for alternative sources to meet their requirements. Now these approaches are not complementary. So, it seems that the WTO is not dead but it is working to extend its sine die mode. The members do not want to kill this organization as it is not effective and hence not harmful. Its efficiency can be gauged from the urgency to fill the seats of AB and consistently failing to do so in the last four years is a concern. Currently, AB is working with a zero member instead of seven members who are to be appointed by DSB and has been designed in such a way that at a particular point in time, not all the members complete their tenure, and it is a continuous process of appointing and retiring members. In the last few years, members have been completing their tenure but no new appointments are being made. The DSB has not been functioning since 2019. The appointments in AB can be the single step to consider WTO seriously. Today, the status is that “No One Cares for WTO”.

The WTO commanded China to raise its share in world trade to fifteen percent and about four decades ago its share was near one percent. The export-led Chinese economy and the world looking for China plus one platform, and the demographic disadvantage are hammering the fragile Chinese economy. There was a time when the Chinese were learning English fast to snatch the services sector business from us. But today, artificial intelligence-led developments and many other factors have demolished the barrier of language in writing the grammar of growth, development, and self-sufficiency. The WTO ministerial conference at Abu Dhabi was an opportunity for China to push a design of trade agreements to favor its economy using tools like plurilateral trade agreements in lieu of multilateral trade agreements and IFDA.  Bharat successfully blocked IFDA with the support of many other countries.  

The thirteenth ministerial conference at WTO should get its own credit. The credit goes to Americans for not coming up with a concrete plan for filling the vacancies at AB. The credit goes to China for pushing IFDA. The credit goes to Bharat to demand full occupancy at AB to make it operational and block China-led IFDA. The moratorium on e-commerce, fisheries, and agriculture-related issues was obviously to be maintained as the status quo. We were supposed to do our work and we did it well.

Today, we have to decide whether we should break, turn, or quit WTO. Whatever we do the world will follow us. The opportunity to enlighten the world with the philosophies of Rashtra Rishi Dattopnat Thengdi Ji and Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhaya Ji has arrived. The WTO can be a starting point. The upcoming ministerial conference in the next two years needs a lot of homework to be done by our trade policy practitioners and may be renaming WTO.  

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