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Tuesday April 16, 2024

Pak team attends WTO conference in Abu Dhabi

By Mehtab Haider
February 29, 2024
Dr. Gohar Ejaz sits and looks on to the Holy Quran as he assumes the charge as Caretaker Federal Minister of Interior in Islamabad on January 24, 2024. — INP
Dr. Gohar Ejaz sits and looks on to the Holy Quran as he assumes the charge as Caretaker Federal Minister of Interior in Islamabad on January 24, 2024. — INP   

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s delegation led by Minister for Commerce Ejaz Gohar participated in the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) at its inaugural session in Abu Dhabi this week but no one knows about the stance taken by Islamabad in the critical parleys.

The conference is taking place from February 26 to 29 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Some of the key subjects up for discussion at the conference included:

1. Public Stock-holding [PSH]

2. E-Commerce Moratorium

3. Investment Facilitation for Development Agreement [IFD]

4. Agri subsidies

5. Trips Waiver extension to diagnostics and therapeutics

6. Trade and environment sustainability

7. Agreement on fisheries subsidies

8. WTO reforms including DSB reforms

9. Advanced work on plastics pollution

10. Fossil fuel subsidy reform

Dr Safdar Sohail, former DG Trade Policy, Ministry of Commerce, and Pakistan’s economic minister to EU in Brussels told The News on Wednesday that there was a need to develop a clear national perspective on the first three topics being scheduled to be discussed in the ongoing MC-13 so policymakers should stick to it and prepare for the possible trajectories that each of these issues will take in and after MC 13.

Issues at 6 & 8 are also important for us. But nothing much is expected on these issues as the developing countries continue shirking trade and environment issues and there is no will on DSB, particularly with the Americans. The US-China rivalry is playing out fully in Dubai. This brings many predicaments for Pakistan. American positions are interesting. They want localism but China wants no disruption to supply chains. The US is not part of the Investment Facilitation for Development Agreement, which now China is pushing, though the US is not blocking it. On the moratorium, the US has asked USTR to ensure its continuity at least for the next two years. But, on the other related issues like data localization, they have significantly become nationalist, with the latest version of Bidenomics and Homeland Economics.

The conference is a good occasion to know as to how the developed countries are redefining their own ‘policy space’ and industrial policy. E-Commerce is a good example. Pakistan was vocally opposed to the continuity of moratorium during 12th MC. This time, it is mute as our minister did not issue a statement on it, for that matter on none of the issues, while departing for Dubai, contrary to the Indian Commerce minister who has been loudly presenting Indian positions and raising the bar to an extent that the DG WTO had to publicly ‘request’ India to soften their stand.

China is supporting moratorium whereas, India, South Africa, Indonesia and possibly Malaysians want the moratorium to end as was agreed during MC 12. “I personally believe it should end. If we are serious about it, then, when the moratorium is extended, we should at least introduce VAT on the importation of ITES. By not taxing the import of ITES, we are losing revenue, our industry is not growing and the big tech platforms are exploiting us. We do not even know how much are we spending on luxury imports such as videogames. In a way the US stance is appreciable that whole of the ecommerce need to be holistically treated. The MC 13 is a call to develop a coherent policy for the whole of IT, Telkom and Communication sectors,” Dr Safdar Sohail said and added: “It appears possible that tomorrow, we would see India bargaining moratorium for permanent PSH. What is in it for Pakistan? Public stock-holding is presented by India as a food security issue. India was spared from the kind of food insecurity which hit Pakistan after the Ukraine war. We also stockpile. But to what effect? The ‘policy space’ is not an objective in its own self. A country can meaningfully participate in the global trade architecture and governance, if they are following a long- term objective in the domestic markets consistently. We have allowed the wheat crop to be internationalized and financialised, with catastrophic results. Both the farmer and the end consumers are the biggest losers.”

“I think Pakistan’s support to IFD is also not very well thought-out. Our FDI regime has done more damage to us than good. We need to balance the facilitation that we provide to FDI with the local value added that this FDI should bring to the country. Also, the monopolistic, coercive power which the investor has accumulated in Pakistan over the year needs to be checked by those organs of the state whose job is to curb the coercive power of the capital,” he added.