Where's India? Key holdout country's minister absent from WTO meeting

India has a history of blocking multilateral negotiations and Goyal was expected to oppose deals at the WTO's last major meeting in Geneva in 2022 but then dropped opposition

Emma Fargeand Rachna Uppal, Reuters
Published : 27 Feb 2024, 02:14 AM
Updated : 27 Feb 2024, 02:14 AM

India's trade minister, seen as the main holdout in global trade negotiations in Abu Dhabi, missed the start of a major World Trade Organization meeting on Monday, sparking concerns that his absence could hamper discussions.

India's Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal is expected to be one of the main players at the four-day talks where delegates are seeking deals on fisheries and digital trade tariffs.

Instead, he was at a textile event in New Delhi attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is not expected at the WTO meeting until late on Tuesday or Wednesday, some delegates said, privately voicing concern since he might miss other key ministers completely.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that participation in the conference was "excellent" and that she was not concerned.

"There is no mystery, it is just some slight mistiming and he will be here with us," she said in response to a question about Goyal's participation. "So I think we are in good shape there, I'm not too worried about it."

Other members of India's delegation are in Abu Dhabi and an official in Goyal's ministry said he would join them on Tuesday and was likely to stay until the end of the conference.

India has a history of blocking multilateral negotiations and Goyal was expected to oppose deals at the WTO's last major meeting in Geneva in 2022 but then dropped opposition.

His absence did not prevent him from, via a pre-recorded statement posted on the WTO website on Monday, making a fresh push for a stand-alone permanent waiver to WTO rules that currently restrict domestic agriculture subsidies on food items like rice.

Several Western countries have privately said they would never accept this.

"Finding a permanent solution on public stockholding remains an unaccomplished agenda on which we have to deliver," Goyal said, adding that this was needed to cut global hunger by 2030.

He also said the global trade watchdog should not negotiate on non-trade issues such as climate change, gender or labour.

India has already said it would oppose US and European efforts to extend a global ban on cross-border e-commerce duties during the meeting.

New Delhi maintains it is fighting to protect livelihoods in developing nations.