India pushes for building broadband infra, digital skills in LDCs, developing countries at WTO meet

PTI New Delhi, Delhi, India May 19, 2020, 06.35 PM(IST)

World Trade Organisation building Photograph:( Reuters )

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In a special virtual meeting of the WTO's General Council on COVID-19 trade-related measures last week, India stated that there is a digital divide between developed and developing countries.

India has made a case for capacity building of developing and least-developed countries in areas like digital skills and broadband infrastructure, under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), rather than negotiating binding rules on e-commerce as coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift to a digital economy.

In a special virtual meeting of the WTO's General Council on COVID-19 trade-related measures last week, India stated that there is a digital divide between developed and developing countries.

Almost half of the world's population does not have access to high speed broadband and is deprived of the access to virtual platforms, tele-medicine, distance education and e-payments, it said.

"This emphasizes the urgent need to build the capacity of developing countries and LDCs (least developed countries) in areas like digital skills and broadband infrastructure, rather than negotiating binding rules on e-commerce, which will freeze the non-level playing field against their interests," it added.

Rich nations wants developing countries like India to negotiate binding commitments on e-commerce under the aegis of the WTO.

India has also said that the narrative-push by some WTO members to seek permanent tariff (or customs duties) liberalization on a range of products in response to a temporary crisis, appears to be a "thinly-veiled bid" to use the current crisis as an opportunity to gain market access for their exporters.

It stated that members are free to reduce customs duties on imports of certain medical or agricultural products to zero, on a voluntary basis, if it serves their health and food security objectives.

"We have donated and exported critical medical supplies to more than 120 countries and have also dispatched teams of Indian doctors to many," it said.

It added that developing countries seeking to shore up manufacturing capacity in medical products will require tariff protection for their nascent domestic industry.

"Further, job losses in many service sectors have to be compensated elsewhere. Therefore, India, like many other developing countries cannot agree to permanent tariff concessions, and a dilution of the tariff bindings that we have paid for in the Uruguay Round," it said.

On ensuring food and livelihood security of the most vulnerable, it said the member countries should agree to eliminate the historic asymmetries in AMS (aggregate measures of support) entitlements in the Agreement on Agriculture and addressing growing hunger through effective food security programmes.

Along with the flow of vital goods, it said, the pandemic has also highlighted the need for ensuring easier cross-border movement of medical professionals and the need for multilateral initiatives in this respect.

This statement was delivered by India's Ambassador to the WTO J S Deepak on May 15.