India’s seventh Trade Policy Review (TPR) began on Wednesday, 6th January 2021, at the World Trade Organization in Geneva. The TPR is an important mechanism under the WTO’s monitoring function, and involves a comprehensive peer-review of the Member’s national trade policies. India’s last TPR took place in 2015.
India’s official delegation for the TPR is headed by the Commerce Secretary, Dr. Anup Wadhawan. In his opening statement to the WTO Membership on the occasion, Commerce Secretary emphasized that this TPR is taking place at a time when the world is witnessing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. He highlighted the far-reaching efforts made by India to effectively address the health and economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat initiative.
Dr. Anup Wadhawan reaffirmed India’s commitment to ensuring equitable and affordable access to vaccines and COVID-treatments for all, and underlined the critical role that multilateral trading system can play in this regard. He highlighted that, in order to deal with the immediate fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic, India has advocated a short-term package of effective measures at the WTO that includes a temporary waiver of certain TRIPS provisions to increase manufacturing capacity and ensure timely and affordable availability of new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19; a permanent solution for Public Stockholding (PSH) for food security purposes to address food security concern; and a multilateral initiative that provides for easier access to medical services under mode-4 to facilitate easier cross-border movement of health care professionals.
The Commerce Secretary emphasized that in the last 5 years, since India’s previous TPR, the Government has worked diligently to reform and transform the entire economic eco-system to meet the socio-economic aspirations of a billion plus Indians. The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, path-breaking reforms in the labour sector, an enabling and investor friendly FDI Policy, and various national programmes like Make in India, Digital India, Startup India and Skill India to bring about rapid transformation across sectors in our manufacturing environment, were emphasized in this regard. The improvement in the economic and business environment, on account of the wide-ranging reforms, has enabled India to better its position in the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking from 142 in 2015 to 63 in 2019. This improvement is also endorsed by investors who continue to view India as a desirable investment destination even during the testing time of the pandemic, with FDI inflow rising by more than 10 per cent year-on-year to reach USD 40 billion in the first six months of 2020-21. In 2019-20, India received highest ever FDI inflow of USD 74.39 billion.
A comprehensive Report issued by the WTO Secretariat on the occasion, chronicling all major trade and economic initiatives that India took over the last five years, acknowledged India’s strong economic growth at 7.4% during the period under review and made a positive note of India’s reform efforts during this period. The Report noted that strong economic growth led to an improvement in socio-economic indicators, such as per-capita income and life expectancy in India. The Secretariat report also commended India for liberalizing its FDI policy, ratifying the Trade Facilitation Agreement and implementing several trade-facilitation measures during the period under review.
In his opening comments, the Chair of the WTO’s TPR Body, Ambassador Mr Harald Aspelund of Iceland congratulated India for its strong economic growth during the period under review. He commended India for its considerable efforts to facilitate trade and for enacting various programmes and legislations to facilitate women’s participation in the Indian economy. He also commended India for its timely and comprehensive responses to more than 700 questions received from WTO members ahead of its TPR.
The Discussant for India’s TPR, Ambassador (Ms.) Sunanta Kangvalkulkij of Thailand noted that this TPR is of one of the most important Members who is also a key and invaluable contributor to the WTO. She strongly commended India for its robust economic growth and wide-ranging economic and structural reforms taken during the period under review. She stated that these reforms have increased the efficiency and inclusiveness of the Indian economy and India emerged as 5th largest economy in 2019. She also lauded India for liberalizing its FDI regime and undertaking significant reforms in the agriculture sector.
More than 50 WTO Members who delivered statements on the occasion, commended India for its strong and resilient economic growth and for the vast improvement in its ease of doing business, as acknowledged by the World Bank. Members mentioned remarkable forward steps taken by India to improve trade and economic policies in a more inclusive and sustainable manner. Several Members applauded India’s leadership role in the global efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic, acknowledging India’s position as the ‘pharmacy of the world’. Liberalization of India’s FDI regime, implementation of several trade facilitation measures, and the enactment of India’s National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy were other reform measures that garnered praise from the WTO Membership. Several Members also appreciated India’s excellent notification and transparency record at the WTO.
With an eye on the rapidly expanding size of the Indian market, leading industrialized and developed countries sought greater liberalization of India’s trade policy, especially in the area of agriculture, harmonizing its standards regime with international standards as well as reducing anti-dumping and other trade-remedy measures. Several Members also made a reference to India’s importance to them as a strategic and trading partner, and wished to continue making progress in their bilateral or regional free trade agreements with India. Several Members lauded India’s leadership role in WTO and also appreciated India for pursuing the interest of developing countries including Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
The TPR Meeting will continue into its second day on 8th January 2021, when further discussions on India’s trade and economic policies will continue among Members.