A two day National Conference on World Trade Organization (WTO) Negotiations, Free Trade and Investment: Implications for Development Policy Space will be held on September 22-23, 2015 at the Institute for Studies in Industrial Development (ISID). The ISID, National Working Group on Patent Law and WTO, Third World Network (TWN), South Solidarity Initiative-Action Aid, Focus on the Global South, Forum on FTAs and Public Services International (PSI) have come together to organise to take stock of the implications of the scenario emerging with regard to the negotiations in WTO and FTAs. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) turns twenty this year. The trade and investment landscape has expanded in the past two decades in a big way through the execution of FTAs.
As of 2015, some 406 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are in force according to the WTO. Further, UNCTAD estimates that there are more than 2200 Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) currently operational. These agreements have led to liberalization of trade and investment. The ability of national governments to pursue independent macro-economic and development policies on a range of issues from agriculture, industry, services and the environment has been compromised. Global institutions and forums are today crucial in determining people’s access to decent jobs, incomes, food, essential services and natural resources.
India’s trade and investment policy has changed in a big way since the creation of the WTO in 1995. India has been pursuing the path of liberalisation through autonomous route as well as WTO commitments. India is reducing import duties, easing FDI norms and revising its intellectual property (IP) laws. India is also a signatory to several bilateral and plurilateral FTAs and BITs with both developed and developing countries. At the moment the Government of India is also in the process of revising its BITs framework, after being challenged by multinational corporations through the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). India’s engagement on bilateral and regional FTAs is another worrying trend given its continuing trade deficit with rising imports and stagnating exports. India has signed some 14 FTAs and is negotiating 16 more. The most controversial amongst these include the EU-India FTA and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with the ten ASEAN Countries plus Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand. Another mega FTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is being used as a benchmark for standards on IP and this will have an impact on RCEP and other FTAs.
With the growing coverage of trade agreements spanning agriculture, industry, services, intellectual property, investment, government procurement and other areas, the interactions between provisions in the sector/area and specific liberalisation policies are becoming more complex. These interactions have to be fully understood for their likely impacts on future policy space. Further India’s trade policy continues to be undemocratic and opaque, especially in case of FTAs and BITs. Negotiating texts are secret, consultations with affected groups are limited to the big industry bodies, and there are no publicly available impact assessment studies especially from a human rights or development perspective. Neither is there parliamentary oversight, or consultation with state governments. What is at stake are livelihoods, incomes and labour rights; agriculture, seeds and the right to food; access to affordable medicines; environmental protection; access to essential services such as health, education, water, and energy; conservation and peoples control over natural resources. With deadlines for the 10th Ministerial Conference of the WTO at Nairobi (December 2015) looming, the Doha round continues to flounder. Developed countries have refused to budge on issues of concern to the developing world and have instead aggressively pushed their agenda through the Trade Facilitation (TF) Agreement, the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and Information Technology Agreement (ITA). Proposals to protect food security tabled by the G-33 group of developing countries and other long pending implementation issues continue to be ignored. In the run-up to Nairobi, there is now a concerted push to conclude the Doha Round with core development issues being cast aside.
In this scenario, it has become imperative for academics, policy makers, analysts, mass organisations and NGOs to not only assess the current state of play, understand sectoral implications but also work out alternate strategies to ensure that trade and development policy making is democratised and meets the goals of sustainable development. Invitation is being extended to participants active from among the academics and non-governmental organizations on the issues of WTO in various sectors namely agriculture, industry, trade, investment and intellectual property and development and the representatives of domestic stakeholders namely organizations of farmers, working class, domestic industry, financial sector, education, health and law. About 60-70 participants, drawn from the academia, mass organisations and NGOs, are expected to join the conference from all over India.
The conference will bring together some of the leading academics, researchers and representatives from mass organisations. The core objective of the proposed conference is to think through the major issues with respect to trade and investment that have an implication on people’s livelihoods, food security, access to essential services and sustainable development. The conference will provide an assessment of the current trade and investment regime by examining the relevant challenges and policy issues linked to people’s livelihoods and sustainable development in agriculture, industry and services. The conference will examine the critical challenges and issues for grounding trade and investment issues in the agenda of various mass organisations and broad platforms. Issues that need further analysis and research on an ongoing basis will be identified from the standpoint of the relevant groups and explore elements of an alternative trade and investment agenda.Attached herewith is the latest programme of the national conference for your attention. Position papers for the implications of development policy space are under preparation which the conference will duly consider.
Click here for downloading the Draft Conference Papers
- Trade and Investment Treaties: Implications for Agriculture & Food Security in India, Ranja Sengupta and Afsar Jafri
- 10th Ministerial Conference of the WTO: Issues and Options, Biswajit Dhar
- Intellectual Property and Seed: Concerns & Caveats, Shalini Bhutani
- India’s Engagement with the WTO and FTAs: Implications for the Manufacturing Sector, Murali Kallummal and Smitha Francis
- Intellectual Property and Pharmaceuticals, Dinesh Abrol
- Services Liberalisation and International Trade Regimes, Benny Kuruvilla & Susanne Barria
- TRIPS Agreement and 10th WTO Ministerial, K.M. Gopakumar