NEW DELHI: India, South Africa and Brazil can play a critical role in getting successful outcomes on the issues of fisheries and agriculture, along with the ecommerce moratorium, at the upcoming ministerial of the World Trade Organization (WTO), its director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said.

Free trade agreements are not taking precedence over multilateralism, she said in an exclusive interview with ET,ahead of the 13th ministerial conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi during February 26-29.

“We look at India as a leader, and we think that as a leader, India has a lot to do in terms of making sure we have a successful MC13,” she said.

G20 Troika Should Support UAE
Okonjo-Iweala added that New Delhi was “instrumental at MC12 in helping to get to success.”

India, Brazil and South Africa are the troika of the G20, the WTO DG said. “We hope they will work together to ensure MC13 is a success… the entire package… not one issue or the other… it is across the board,” she told ET.

“Not just G20, they are also BRICS (members)… they should support the UAE to ensure the UAE is a successful host, like it was for COP28,” she said, referring to the climate summit held late last year in Dubai.

Okonjo-Iweala said all three countries have to play a critical role in outcomes on fisheries, agriculture and ecommerce.

“We’re trying to also (put) together a package of measures that developing countries want, which they think can help them, especially the least developed countries,” she said.

As many as 122 WTO members are discussing an agreement on investment facilitation for development, of which 85 are developing countries that want this pact. “It’s a plurilateral that they are trying to insert into the legal framework of the WTO. So, support for that will be very welcome,” she said.

On WTO reforms and ending the impasse in the appellate body, she said there is a misconception about the dispute settlement system — that it’s not functioning at all. “That is not the case,” Okonjo-Iweala insisted.

The system has two levels — the panel level and the appellate body. She said the panel level is functioning. “The dispute settlement system is still managing to handle cases. The second tier — the appellate body — is still not working, but members need to find substitutes for that tier,” said Okonjo-Iweala, adding that this is one area where all members still need to come together to try to deliver a fully functioning dispute settlement system.

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