India: India And The Changing World Of Trade

Last Updated: 23 November 2018
Article by RV Anuradha
  • Systemic reform in relation to the dispute settlement role of the WTO is clearly needed to restore the credibility of the system.
  • Constructive engagement on issues such as ecommerce and investment facilitation at the WTO is important.

When the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was established in 1995, it was hailed as the start of a new era in economic growth based on multilateral trade and globalisation. And yet, 23 years after it was established, the future of the WTO is itself in question. Increasing protectionism across both developed and developing countries, that has been evident since the financial crisis of 2008, came to a head with the US administration imposing a series of tariff measures since January this year, raising the spectre of 'trade wars'.

The current crisis has been in the making for several years since the financial crisis of 2008. The WTO, as well as several independent surveys, have been warning about the increase in protectionist measures across countries. It may therefore not be accurate to attribute the threat of trade wars to the US administration under President Donald Trump alone.

As things stand today in the world of trade, the US has imposed tariffs and quotas on a variety of imports from China, and steel and aluminium tariffs for a wider set of countries, including India. Several countries (including India, European Union (EU), Canada, Mexico, Russia, Norway, Switzerland and China) have initiated WTO disputes against US measures. Of these, countries including China, the EU, Canada, Mexico, Turkey and Russia, have imposed retaliatory tariffs in response to President Trump's actions on trade in aluminum and steel.

In response, the US has launched separate disputes at the WTO, challenging the tariffs that each of these WTO members has imposed. In the tit-for-tat world of trade, the future of a key component of the WTO's dispute settlement system- the appellate body, is uncertain owing to an impasse that has resulted from US' actions in blocking the reappointment of appellate body members.

Joint Groups and "New Issues"

These events, coupled with the sluggish pace of multilateral trade negotiations over the past few years, has led to a growing clamour to revive the system through 'reform'. Systemic reform in relation to the dispute settlement role of the WTO is clearly needed to restore the credibility of the system. Another aspect of getting increasing support is to have the WTO engage in what is often referred to as the "21st century issues," including 'electronic commerce' and 'investment facilitation'.

India has so far been sceptical about engaging with such issues, the concern being that when there is unfinished business under the WTO's Doha Development Agenda (which commenced in 2001), on issues ranging from services to agriculture, members cannot divert attention to new issues without a clear mandate.

A related concern is that in an area such as digital trade where national regulatory frameworks are still evolving, it is perhaps premature to agree on multilateral rules.

These concerns notwithstanding, there is gradual build up of momentum, beginning with the formation of "joint informal" groups of countries at the WTO at the 11th Ministerial Conference in December 2017, which issued joint statements to advance talks at the WTO on the issues including electronic commerce, investment facilitation and micro, small and medium size enterprises (MSMEs).

There is now increasing focus on new approaches to achieving outcomes which are not necessarily based on the traditional WTO norm of "consensus" based decisions, since not all WTO members are part of the 'joint groups'. These include a recent World Bank-IMF-WTO paper referred to above on "Reinvigorating Trade," a "Joint Communiqué of the Ottawa Ministerial on WTO Reform" issued by a group of 13 countries comprising of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, EU, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland, and the Report of a High Level Board of Experts comprising of trade experts from several jurisdictions, titled "Revitalising Multilateral Governance at the WTO".

The EU and Canada have separately released their discussion papers on WTO reform. A common theme running across these documents in the need for flexible and open negotiating approaches to address the new issues.

Interestingly, the Ottawa Communique also emphasised that "tackling pending and unfinished business is key to ensuring the relevance of the WTO". Taking cue from this, there is a need to give a renewed push for pursuing the unfinished Doha business relating to agriculture and services; but it would not be prudent to insist that unfinished business should be completed before discussions on new areas can proceed.

Constructive engagement on issues such as ecommerce and investment facilitation at the WTO is important; not doing so runs the risk of fragmented plurilateral outcomes. The discussions on these issues, and the approaches taken to address them, will have a crucial role to play in whatever shape or form world trade rules survive and evolve. To watch as bystanders would be a mistake and a missed opportunity.

Threat or Opportunity?

The willingness to listen, discuss and contribute will also provide a significant opportunity to shape the nature of discourse and its outcome to ensure policy flexibility in fledgling areas such as e-commerce. India should not lose this opportunity.

At the same time, it is important to recognise that 'new issues' and rules around these issues cannot be the magic potion that can reinvigorate multilateral trade. For achieving that, addressing the underlying causes for increasing protectionism is necessary.

For ultimately, if we separate the grain from the chaff, and leave aside the drama of President Trump's actions, there appears to be a strange convergence of views across countries- that perhaps the WTO has not really achieved the objective of trade as an engine of growth; and that income and resource inequalities have only exacerbated across countries.

As UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) notes in its recent Trade and Development Report, with its ominously worded title: "Power, Platforms and the Free Trade Delusion", "(T)he paradox of twenty-first century globalisation is that – despite an endless stream of talk about its flexibility, efficiency and competitiveness – advanced and developing economies are becoming increasingly brittle, sluggish and fractured."

A patchwork of new issues cannot fix this problem, but neither will staying out of the negotiations on the same. It is clear that free trade by itself cannot guarantee growth and prosperity. Deeper introspection and innovative approaches are needed to address this both at the national and the multilateral level.

RV Anuradha is partner, Clarus Law Associates, New Delhi, and specialises in international trade and investment laws.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions