12th Ministerial Conference of World Trade Organisation:
The biggest imperialist powers determine the rules of world trade

The 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) took place 12th-17th June 2022.  The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO and usually meets every two years.

WTO was established by world imperialism led by US imperialism following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the bipolar division of the world.It is important to recall that as per the Paris Charter, US imperialism and its allies demanded that all countries commit themselves to the “free market”. That is, they must remove all restrictions to the entry of foreign companies, foreign goods, and foreign capital. All countries were pressurised to pursue policies that would allow global finance capital to establish its domination over the world economy.

WTO is an instrument of the biggest trading monopolies of the world to establish their stranglehold over global trade. The ministerial meetings of the WTO have been an arena of collusion and contention between various contending powers. Since the inception of WTO, the US has been trying to use it to achieve a unipolar world under its dictate. It has defended the interests of the monopoly capitalists of the US. Other powers – European Union, China, Russia, India, Brazil, etc have been fighting to advance the interests of their monopoly capitalists. The interests of the broad masses of workers, farmers and other working people of all countries are invariably trampled underfoot.

Agriculture

Agriculture has been one of the most contentious issues in WTO. The US and European Union subsidize their agricultural trading monopoliesso that these companies can capture the markets of other countries by dumping their agricultural produce at extremely low prices. To achieve their aim, the US and European Union have been pressuring the less developed countries of the world to reduce their import duties for agricultural produce and subsidies for farmers.

During this conference also, negotiations took place on agricultural trade related topics.

India is emerging as an important player in the trade of agricultural commodities. Indian monopoly capitalists who are in agricultural trade want to utilise their control over the Indian state to advance their interests both in the home market and in the global market. This must be kept in mind when understanding the stand of the Indian representative in the WTO negotiations.The Indian representative defended its Public Procurement Policy at minimum support prices (MSP) which in WTO is considered to be a subsidy. Currently India’s subsidy bill is breaching the maximum threshold (10% of its total production) prescribed by the Agreement of Agriculture (AoA). This is not acceptable tothe US and the European Union. India’s demand to allow it to export food from its public food stockholdings (procured from farmers directly at support prices and therefore considered a subsidy) to other countries was deferred to the next ministerial conference scheduled to take place in 2023.

E-Commerce Transactions

India and South Africa had opposed the extension of the moratorium on custom duties on e-commerce transactions. The Indian demand for customs duties on e-commerce transactions is a demand in the interests of Indian e-commerce companies which want to establish their domination over the home market. The Indian delegation pointed out that between 2017-2020, developing countries lost a potential tariff revenue of around US $ 50 billion on imports from only 49 digital products.

WTO members had first agreed to not impose custom duties on electronic transactions in 1998, in the interest of US e-commerce monopolies.The moratorium has been periodically extended since then, for the benefit of these E-commerce monopolies. Despite considerable opposition from various countries, it was agreed in this conference that the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce transactions will continue till the next conference scheduled to take place in 2023. This will benefit e-commerce giants which today dominate global e-commerce. As of now, the moratorium is supposed to expire on 31 March 2024, unless renewed.

COVID 19 Vaccine Production

India and South Africa had tabled a proposal in October 2020, seeking a temporary waiver from the implementation, application and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRs)on vaccines, medicines and production of medicinal products.The proposal argued that such IPRs would impede access to and make essential vaccines and drugs unaffordable. This proposal was supported by almost 2/3rd of WTO’s membership.

India’s proposal was voicing the demand of Indian pharmaceutical companies, and vaccine producing companies. It must be noted that Indian pharma companies have established a market for themselves in Africa and some other regions of the world, apart from the huge home market. Indian vaccine companies have become some of the biggest vaccine producers in the world. They have made enormous profits from the production of vaccines during the COVID crisis.

However, Indian companies do not hold patents for either the covid vaccines, or for drugs used for covid treatment, or other pharmaceutical materials. It is in the interests of the Indian capitalists in the pharma industry to demand a waiver of Intellectual Property Rights on covid related vaccines and medicines.

As expected, US and European pharma monopolies had strongly opposed this proposal. This was reflected in the stand of the US and European Union countries.

After intense negotiations, WTO members finally agreed to temporarily waive Intellectual Property Rights on patents on COVID 19 Vaccines for 5 years. This waiver is not applicable to medicines needed to treat COVID patients.

Setting Limits on “Harmful” Fishing Subsidies

The WTO passed a multi-lateral agreement that would curb “harmful” subsidies on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for the next 4 years, to protect global fish stocks. Since 2001, negotiations have been going on to ban the subsidies that promote overfishing. Overfishing refers to the exploiting fishes at a pace faster than they could replenish themselves (currently standing at 34% as per the UN Food and Agricultural Organization)

Giant fishing companies of the US, European Union, Japan, Australia etc roam around the oceans, and carry out fishing in the exclusive economic zones of various countries. These companies are responsible for overfishing. However, these companies are able to act with impunity because they are backed by their governments. The entire target of the campaign against “overfishing” at the WTO has always been the small fishermen of various countries.

For India, the issue of fighting for fishermen’s interests is an important one. There is the interests of small fishermen, and there is the interests of large Indian fishing companies using modern methods of fishing. India together with many other countries opposed the section of the proposal which threatened subsidies for small scale fishing. These countries argued that US, EU, Japan and others should cut back on subsidies to larger corporations for deep-sea fishing.

India has accepted a two-year transition period for removing subsidies. The agreement allows India to grant such subsidies as long as fishing takes place in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Conclusion

The 12th ministerial Conference of the WTO revealed how the interests of the biggest trading monopolies of the world dictate the rules for world trade. The delegates of the US, EU countries, Japan, China, etc fought for the interest of the monopoly capitalists of their countries. The delegation of the India government did likewise. The representatives of these countries colluded as well as contended with each other, to the detriment of the workers and peasants in all countries.

 World Trade Organization (WTO)

The WTO officially commenced on 1 January 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement, signed by 123 nations on 15 April 1994, after a series of negotiations spread over replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Whereas the GATT mainly dealt with trade in goods, the WTO and its agreements also cover trade in services and intellectual property. The birth of the WTO also created new procedures for the settlement of disputes. WTO currently has 164 countries, as its members.

There are six agreements binding on all member countries of WTO.

1.The Agreement Establishing the WTO

  1. Goods and investment – the Multilateral Agreements on Trade in Goods including the GATT 1994 and the Trade Related Investment Measures(TRIMS)
  2. Services– the General Agreement on Trade in Services(GATS)
  3. Intellectual property – the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights(TRIPS)

5.Dispute settlement (DSU)

6.Reviews of governments’ trade policies (TPRM)

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