International Relations

WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference: A Way Forward for Global Trade

  • The World Trade Organisation (WTO) held its 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, from February 26 to March 2, with 166 member countries in attendance.
  • The conference concluded with the adoption of a ministerial declaration proposing a reform plan to strengthen the WTO’s role in regulating global trade and fostering smooth cross-border commerce. 

About World Trade Organization (WTO)

Establishment1995, replacing GATT
ObjectiveTo regulate international trade
HeadquartersGeneva, Switzerland
Members164India is a Founding Member.
ObjectivesFormulate rules for tradeNegotiate further liberalizationSettle disputesAssist developing countriesCooperate with major economic institutions
PrinciplesNon-DiscriminationMost Favored NationNational TreatmentReciprocityPredictability through Binding CommitmentsTransparencyEncourage Development and Reforms
Important Trade AgreementsAgreement on Agriculture (AoA),Agreement on TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights),Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS),Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT),Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS),General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) etc.
WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA)Negotiated during the Uruguay Round (1995).The goal is to improve agricultural commerce and boost rural economies with fewer trade “distortions”.Focuses on improving market access, decreasing subsidies, and removing export subsidies.Types of Subsidies:Green Box – No distortion in commerce.Amber Box – Can distort production and commerce (with limits) Blue Box – Subsidies linked to production-limiting programs
Most Favoured Nation ClauseEnsures nondiscriminatory trade.Prevents prejudice among trading partners.The first clause in GATT grants special trading statuses to all WTO members. 

Key Decisions at MC13

  • Member countries committed to develop a fully effective dispute settlement system by 2024.
  • Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT): The emphasis was on increasing the use of S&DT provisions to meet the development goals of developing and least developed countries (LDCs). 

Challenges to Multilateral Trading Orders

  • Rising Protectionism: As domestic pressures increase, developed economies have demonstrated a proclivity for protectionist policies, threatening the current globalised trade paradigm.
  • Supply Chain Disruptions: Ongoing conflicts and sanctions have affected global supply systems, demanding a rethinking of trade rules to maintain resilience and efficiency.
  • Development discrepancies: Concerns about fair treatment of nations persist, with attention focused on reducing discrepancies between richer and less developed countries. 

India’s Approach

  • India’s approach include advocating for a resolution on the Public Stockholding (PSH) programme, which is vital for guaranteeing food security. The programme allows for the procurement and delivery of vital food grains to millions of beneficiaries at subsidised costs.
  • Fisheries Subsidies: India proposed regulations to govern fisheries subsidies, pushing for assistance to impoverished fishermen in national waters while reducing subsidies for industrial fishing in international oceans.
  • E-commerce Customs Duties: India advocated for the lifting of the customs duty moratorium on cross-border e-commerce, stressing the necessity to protect income generation in the digital trade landscape.


  • Agriculture: At MC13, a text addressing agricultural issues was drafted, marking a significant milestone after decades of talks.
  • Fisheries: Progress towards consensus on fisheries regulations was highlighted, with the goal of finalisation by mid-year.
  • E-commerce charges: Despite attempts, the exemption from customs charges on e-commerce transactions has been extended for another two years, disappointing some developing countries.

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