Investment facilitation: Government gets support from civil society


DUBAI: Civil society backed govt’s stand on investment facilitation for development (IFD), an agreement being pushed by China, Chile and South Korea amid a narrative being built by several rich nations to paint India as holding up talks in several areas at the WTO ministerial meeting that kicks off on Monday.
“Not only is there no mandate for these (investment facilitation) negotiations, there is a negative mandate.Countries that are trying to push this through at the MC13 are breaching fundamental WTO rules,” said Deborah James, facilitator of the Our World is Not for Sale network, pointing to decisions taken in 2004 and 2016. Civil society groups have accused China of putting undue pressure on poorer nations, which they argued will not gain, and also questioned the role of WTO secretariat in pushing for inclusion in the talks. Some have described it as “illegitimate” and “anti-development”.

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Govt officials told TOI that the last minute attempt to put something, which was not even on the main agenda, was not acceptable as countries were trying to get things into the WTO through the backdoor when for years it has been opposed.
“It is investment facilitation today, tomorrow it will be environment or MSME. These are non-trade issues and do not belong to WTO. Besides, you can’t negotiate things in small groups and seek to legitimise them by getting it into the main agenda,” an Indian negotiator said.
While the US, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are not signatories to the IFD agreement, at least at the moment, they are not against its inclusion as an annexure, something that India and South Africa are seeking to block. The two countries have firmly opposed “plurilaterals” and are holding firm. All the WTO members enjoy veto and even if one member disagrees the issue will be blocked.
In the case of domestic regulation of services, WTO members have agreed to include it in the agenda after the countries that pushed the agreement decided to make it available to the entire membership without getting them to agree to any of the obligations.

Officials said that unlike the picture being painted by some of the developed nations, domestic regulation of services – which seeks to bring transparency in regulating sectors such as banking, telecom and even entry of lawyers and accountants – will help nations instead of just pushing the agenda of a handful of countries, as was the case with investment.
“There has been progress there. In addition, graduation for LDCs and the entry of two new members have been positive agenda items at the ministerial. It is unfair to blame a few countries especially when you have failed to implement your share of the promise on things like public stockholding,” an Indian official said.
Separately, G33 group of countries on Sunday expressed serious concern over lack of progress in agriculture trade negotiations and urge the WTO members to work on a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding of grains for food security purposes.
The G33 group includes 47 developing and least developed countries.

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