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Why in news?• The Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) took place in December 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.However, the members failed to agree to a ministerial declaration at the end of MC11.Key Takeaways• Fishery subsidies –o Member nations committed to securing a deal on fisheries subsidies for prohibiting subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing which delivers on Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 by the end of 2019.o They also committed to improving the reporting of existing fisheries subsidy programmes.• Public Stockholding –o There was no outcome on public stockholding for food security purposes or on other agriculture issues. As a result, India’s food security programmes and its current public distribution system will not be impacted.o However, to use the peace clause, India has to give information to WTO about the size of its food subsidy bill till last year.• E-commerce – o Another outcome was to continue the 1998 work programme on e-commerce. While there was a strong push by some countries to initiate negotiations on this issue, this was resisted by India.o The consensus decision was to continue discussions in a non-negotiating mode — a vindication of India’s stand.• Non-trade issues –o Developed nations strived to bring into the discussions a stream of issues from rules for small and medium enterprises to gender rights in global trade, which India has categorized as nontrade issues.o Many of these proposals run counter to India’s interests while also reducing the policy space for governments if norms are decided beforehand.• Other issues where no agreement was reachedinclude:o the work programme on special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries to curb unforeseen surges in imports of agricultural productso the work programme on 10 agreement-specific proposals for improvements in special and differential treatment of developing countrieso long-standing cotton issue, calling for elimination of export subsidies, since the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial ConferenceRelevance of WTO for India• Regional trade groups cannot be an alternative as theyhave succeeded in some places and they have not elsewhere. India’s own experience with bilateral trade agreements has not always been good.• There is a risk that bilateral and regional agreements are trade diverting and that differences in trade protection generated politically may incentivize goods and services to flow in directions that are not efficient from a market perspective.• Bilateral and regional treaties also open the door to the stricter “WTO plus” conditions in select areas like patents.• India is in a better position with its food procurement and public stock holding policies protected within the WTO than with having to negotiate separate deals with major farm exporters like the U.S., Canada and Australia.Conclusion• The existential crisis facing the WTO, highlighted by the failure of the recent ministerial meeting at Buenos Aires is only symptomatic of a decline in its importance.• The nature of the deliberation at MC11 is a manifestation of the changing global power dynamics.• While certain developed countries (in this case, the US) canprevent outcomes going against its interest, some of thedeveloping countries are now in a position to firmly resist itshegemony at the multilateral level.• Therefore, need of the hour are the structural reforms in the WTO functioning as multilateral trading system embodied by the WTO based on mutually agreed discipline on marketaccess, customs duties, etc. remain critical to maintainingglobal interdependence

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