News: Over 160 countries are taking part in the 12th ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization at Geneva.
The WTO’s 164 member-countries are engaged in talks on five broad themes—food security and agriculture; fisheries subsidies; intellectual property rights waiver on covid-19 vaccines and pandemic response; WTO reforms; and extension of a moratorium on customs duty on e-transmission.
While India and other developing countries are pressing for a fair, equitable and balanced outcome, the draft agreements on the table seem to favour developed countries.
India is fighting for the right to stockpile and export food grains, the right to subsidise the fisheries sector, and taxing digital imports.
A “permanent solution” on public stockholding of food grains would allow countries such as India to give out higher farm support. India and other developing nations run public stockholding programmes to benefit the poor. However, developed countries consider them as trade distortions and WTO rules, currently, limit the support that countries can directly give to its farmers at 10% of the value of production calculated on a base of 1986-88. Although a ‘peace clause’ negotiated by India in 2013 gives developing nations protection against legal action if limits are breached, it is subject to onerous conditions.
While India has not exceeded the 10% ceiling for wheat, it has had to invoke the ‘peace clause’ for rice for three years now. Currently, the peace clause only includes government programmes started before 2013. India wants government programmes started after 2013 to be included in the calculation as it wants to expand the scope of farm support.
This proposal aims to eliminate subsidies that contribute to overfishing, curb support for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and promote sustainable fishing. As per the latest draft text, developing countries will need to do away with subsidies that contribute to overfishing within seven years of the agreement coming into effect, or up to 2030. India wants this period of exemption to be extended 25 years, arguing its fisheries industry is still at a nascent stage.
India’s stand on e-transmission:
This issue dates back to 1998, when WTO members agreed not to impose any customs duty on electronic transmission. But the moratorium has been periodically extended at ministerial conferences and many countries want to make the moratorium permanent. India is opposed to an extension citing that developing countries have been losing revenue. Officials argued that since digital trade is dominated by big tech and developed countries, the moratorium squarely favours developed nations.
About World Trade Organization:
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organization that regulates and facilitates international trade.
Governments use the organization to establish, revise, and enforce the rules that govern international trade.
It officially commenced operations on 1 January 1995, pursuant to the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement, thus replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that had been established in 1948.
The WTO is the world’s largest international economic organization, with 164 member states representing over 98% of global trade and global GDP.
The WTO facilitates trade in goods, services and intellectual property among participating countries by providing a framework for negotiating trade agreements, which usually aim to reduce or eliminate tariffs, quotas, and other restrictions; these agreements are signed by representatives of member governments: fol.9–10 and ratified by their legislatures.
The WTO also administers independent dispute resolution for enforcing participants’ adherence to trade agreements and resolving trade-related disputes.
The organization prohibits discrimination between trading partners, but provides exceptions for environmental protection, national security, and other important goals.
The WTO is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
Its top decision-making body is the Ministerial Conference, which is composed of all member states and usually convenes biennially; consensus is emphasized in all decisions.
2. NATIONAL COMPANY LAW APPELLATE TRIBUNAL
News: The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) on Monday upheld the Competition Commission of India’s (CCI’s) 17 December order pertaining to non-disclosures by Amazon.com Inc, dealing a setback to the US online retailer.
About National Company Law Appellate Tribunal:
The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) is a tribunal which was formed by the Central Government of India under Section 410 of the Companies Act, 2013.
The NCLAT was formed as a body with an appellate jurisdiction at the same time when NCLT was established as a major reform as per powers granted to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in India,
The tribunal also hears appeals from orders issued by the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India under Section 202 and Section 211 of IBC.
It also hears appeals from any direction issued, decision made, or order passed by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and the National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA).
The NCLAT includes a chairperson, 3 judicial members, and 2 technical members. It consists of a total of not more than eleven members. Ashok Bhushan, retired judge of Supreme Court is the current chairman of National Company Law Appellate Tribunal.
Qualifications for Judicial member at National Company Law Appellate Tribunal:
Should be of 50 years old.
Served at least 5 years as District Judge or High Court Judge or has a minimum 10 years’ experience serving in any judicial authority.
Qualifications for Technical member at National Company Law Appellate Tribunal:
Should be of 50 years old.
Any person practicing as a chartered Accountant, cost accountant or company secretary for a period of 15 years.
Any person holding the rank of Secretary or Additional Secretary to the central government and is a member of the Indian Corporate Law Service or Indian Legal Service for more than 15 years.
Following are the powers and functions of National Company Law Appellate Tribunal:
Orders issued by Competition Commission of India (CCI).
Orders issued by Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India.
3. WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME
News: Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal on Monday pressed India’s case for countries to be allowed to restrict food grain imports to the World Food Programme (WFP) from their public stockpiles, saying the UN agency had failed to respond adequately to help people in hunger.
About World Food Programme:
The World Food Programme (WFP) is the food-assistance branch of the United Nations. It is the world’s largest humanitarian organization focused on hunger and food security, and the largest provider of school meals. Founded in 1961, it is headquartered in Rome and has offices in 80 countries.
As of 2020, it served 115.5 million people in 80-plus countries, the largest since 2012.
In addition to emergency food relief, WFP offers technical assistance and development aid, such as building capacity for emergency preparedness and response, managing supply chains and logistics, promoting social safety programs, and strengthening resilience against climate change.
The agency is also a major provider of direct cash assistance and medical supplies, and provides passenger services for humanitarian workers.
WFP is an executive member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, a consortium of UN entities that aims to fulfil the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), with a priority on achieving SDG 2 for “zero hunger” by 2030.
4. ‘STARTUPS FOR RAILWAYS’
News: In its latest step toward modernization, the Railways are set to tap India’s large start-up ecosystem to help bring scale and efficiency in operation, maintenance and infrastructure creation.
About ‘Start-ups for Railways’ Initiative:
Long-running discussions over integration of technology into Indian Railways have taken the firm shape in form of this policy.
The minister said that through this platform start-ups will get a good opportunity to connect with the Railways.
Out of over 100 problem statements received from different divisions, field offices and zones of the Railways, 11 — including rail fracture and headway reduction — have been taken up for phase 1 of this programme. These will be presented before start-ups to find innovative solutions.
The minister requested start-ups to use this opportunity and assured them of support from Indian Railways in the form of 50% capital grant, an assured market, scale and ecosystem.
As per the new policy, a grant of up to ₹1.5 crore will be given to an innovator on equal sharing basis with the provision of milestone-wise payment. Trials of prototypes will be done in the Railways. Enhanced funding will be provided to scale up deployment on successful performance of prototypes.
The complete process — from floating of problem statement to development of prototype — is online with defined timelines to make it transparent and objective. The start-ups will be selected through by a transparent and fair system which will be dealt through the online portal.
Another feature of the new policy is that it will recognise innovation and the developed Intellectual property rights (IPR) will remain with innovator. Also, such products will get assured developmental order from the Railways.
The new policy will also facilitate de-centralization of complete product development process at the divisional level to avoid delays.
To start with, 11 problems statements have been identified to deal with through new innovation policy. These include: broken rail detection system, rail stress monitoring system, headway improvement system for suburban section interoperable with Indian Railways National ATP system, automation of track inspection activities, design of superior Elastomeric Pad (EM Pad) for heavy haul freight wagons, development of on-line condition monitoring system for traction motors of 3-phase electric locomotives, light-weight wagon for transporting commodities like salt, and development of analytical tool by using digital data for improving passenger services.
Also included are track cleaning machine, app for post-training revision and self-service refresher courses, and use of remote sensing, geomatics and GIS for bridge inspection.