WTO DG Okonjo-Iweala welcomes constructive talks during visit to India

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala completed a three-day visit to India on October 22, a visit which culminated in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi. She also held a round of meetings with India’s ministers for commerce, finance and external relations. She welcomed the constructive engagement in the discussions as well as India’s pledge of support for the WTO and a successful 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).

“I wanted to share with Prime Minister Modi and his senior officials where we are with respect to preparations for MC12 and secure India’s leadership,” DG Okonjo-Iweala said.  “India is a leader, India has a strong voice at the WTO and if we are to have a successful MC12, India’s leadership will be very important.”

“Everyone needs to show flexibility in the weeks ahead and we need to make sure agreements are balanced, taking the views of both developing and developed members into account in a fair manner,” she added. “Nobody, India included, gains from a WTO that is unable to address pressing challenges such as removing barriers to vaccine access, halting the depletion of the world’s fish stocks and ensuring food security. We look forward to India’s leadership in addressing those challenges.”

In the DG’s meeting with Prime Minister Modi on  October 22, the two discussed multilateralism, structural reforms to the Indian economy, and the road to MC12. The Prime Minister stressed that India is a large democracy and there is a need to listen to India and take its views into account. The Prime Minister also reiterated his and India’s support to the WTO.

The Director-General also congratulated the Prime Minister and his government for achieving the milestone of administering 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses as well as India’s recent decision to lift export restrictions on vaccines.

“We talked about the need for strengthening the WTO and for standing behind multilateral institutions,” DG Okonjo-Iweala said. “We both agreed that multilateralism must work for all members.”

DG Okonjo-Iweala held meetings on 20 and 21 October with Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs and Food and Public Distribution and Textiles.  She also attended a dinner hosted by Minister Goyal. The bilateral discussions focused on India’s interests and concerns with regards to WTO-related issues such as intellectual property and public health, agriculture and fisheries subsidies. 

She welcomed the positive exchanges in her discussions with Minister Goyal, which provided a better understanding of India’s positions on these issues, as well as his pledge of support for the DG in helping to secure outcomes at MC12. She also underlined India’s important leadership role at the WTO and the need for members to show flexibility in securing outcomes at the Ministerial Conference. A successful MC12 is important to the future of the organization and the multilateral trading system as a whole, she stressed.

The DG met Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on October 22. They discussed the need to strengthen multilateralism and the need to shore up and strengthen the WTO as one of the key multilateral economic institutions.

Also on October 22, the DG met Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Their discussion centred on India’s sustainable recovery, the role of trade in contributing to that recovery, and the need for a balanced fisheries subsidies agreement.

DG Okonjo-Iweala met with business leaders and vaccine manufacturers on  October 21, 2021at events organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry. She heard from industry the current supply chain challenges they face and what the WTO could do to help address them. She urged India’s business community to take a more proactive role in the WTO discussions and said their support was needed to achieve successes at MC12. 

The DG heard from vaccine manufacturers about their efforts to ramp up COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution and the challenges they face in overcoming bottlenecks and securing supply chains. She noted the work by her and other agency heads on the Multilateral Leaders Task Force on COVID-19 to help track, coordinate and advance delivery of COVID-19 health tools to developing countries and to mobilize efforts to remove critical roadblocks. Vaccine manufacturers stressed their concerns about eventual worldwide excess capacity for vaccine manufacture as the COVID-19 pandemic runs its course.

The DG also met on 21 October with a group of Indian tech firms and start-ups to discuss how the digital economy is contributing to India’s development and the various initiatives under way in areas such as e-payments, digital health, and development of new e-commerce platforms.

On  October 22, she met with women representatives of various self-help groups engaged in efforts to meet the needs of poorer communities during the pandemic. The discussions underlined the DG’s call for the WTO to return to its core principles of using trade to further sustainable development and employment and raise living standards.

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