Column: China’s silence at WTO

Aug 06 2014, 01:36 IST
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SummaryThe country doesn’t want to play the villain in world trade and is happy to pass on the role to India.

The last time when the WTO talks failed in 2008, India and China were jointly held responsible for the outcome. It is not coincidental that, since then, the US has refrained from providing leadership to the WTO and has preferred concentrating on regional trade agreements (RTAs). The six years of the Obama administration has hardly seen the US being active at the WTO except for making the right noises.

The latest stalling of talks at the WTO has had India taking the entire blame. China is no more a co-conspirator; nor are any other major emerging markets willing to lend their voice to India’s cause.

Are China and India then, no more the buddies they were when they opposed the West repeatedly on major global economic issues, including world trade, climate change and the international financial system?

It certainly seems so on trade and at the WTO. Like most other emerging markets, China has shown little appetite for buying India’s ardent plea on linking food security to the trade facilitation programme. Indeed, while it has not come out against India, there is little doubt that it would have been almost as disappointed as the US and EU at India’s stubborn resistance.

For quite some time now, China has been rather quiet at the WTO. At Bali too, the Chinese silence was noteworthy. This could have been due to Bali’s limited agenda comprising only trade facilitation, food security and the work programme for the LDCs. Nonetheless, its silence is in sharp contrast to the not-too-distant past when it was vocal in articulating its views at the WTO; and by doing which it donned the mantle of representing the global ‘South’, along with India.

China is unlikely to adopt an obstructionist posture at the WTO in future. There are several reasons for this.

China realises the importance of being the largest player in global trade. Its future economic prospects depend significantly upon its ability to maintain its lead over other countries in world trade, particularly in merchandise trade. The proposed trade facilitation agreement (TFA) would have been useful for China in this regard. Given its strong trade links with almost every WTO member, a multilateral trade facilitation framework ensuring harmonisation of customs procedures and border measures can bring considerable benefits to China. Hence, it is keen on seeing the TFA through.

At the same time, unlike the US and the EU, China does not wish to get

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