India disagrees on WTO Chief's stance to include climate change in trade talks at ongoing Ministerial Conference

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India disagrees on WTO Chief's stance to include climate change in trade talks at ongoing Ministerial Conference
Try to ignore it as much as you want, but the impact of climate change is painfully pervasive, despite seeming invisible at first glance. The phenomenon has come a long way from just increased global temperatures; it affects virtually every aspect of our lives now — from the availability of the food we eat, to even the international and local trade that sustains our economies.
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For instance, climate change-exacerbated extreme weather, such as hurricanes and floods, can damage transport infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ports and railway tracks, incrementally pushing up trading costs. The warming phenomenon is even altering our jet streams that many flights rely on, making the future very uncertain for our air freight sector.

In addition, many important water-based trade routes, such as the Panama Canal and China’s Yangtze river, are severely reliant on the availability of water for their operations, making them particularly susceptible to changes in precipitation patterns and drought. Further, excessive heat affects both humans and their equipment, leading to significant productivity losses and other disruptions.

All of these factors can incur a noticeable toll on supply chains worldwide, especially in climate-vulnerable countries such as India, and countries with limited trade routes. However, India recently addressed the World Trade Organisation (WTO) members at the thirteenth Ministerial Conference, insisting that climate change is a “non-trade” issue, and hence the discussion does not belong in the forum, as per an Economic Times report.

Reigniting discussions on the contentious topic, the WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has disagreed with India’s stance on trade and climate change.

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“Trade has been instrumental in helping climate change issues. We do not believe you can have environmental issues without trade,” she explained. “Just think of diffusion of technology; solar panels — how do they move from places where they are produced? Trade is critical and should be part of the solution,” she continued, noting that we need to examine how trade could be leveraged to solve climate change.

Beyond climate change, the WTO Chief highlighted two other areas that require special attention: fisheries and agriculture. She emphasised the urgency of finalising negotiations on the Fisheries Subsidies, which are a proposed set of rules to ensure that the support of governments to their fishers does not result in unsustainable overexploitation of our marine resources.

Ngozi expressed alarm at the note that 50% of our ocean fisheries have become overfished, and that we need to find a conclusion on the Fisheries-Subsidies discussions that have been ongoing at the WTO for over two decades. Due to the reliance of millions of India on traditional fisheries to address a large section of its hunger, poverty, food and nutrition insecurities, this is another topic India has spoken passionately about at the conference.

Okonjo-Iweala also expressed optimism regarding progress in agriculture negotiations. After several years of stalled talks, WTO members are now working on a text that addresses issues like reducing subsidies and import duties, as well as public stockholding, which is another concern for India.
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