Tariff war fears: 53 nations will meet in Delhi to discuss trade

New Delhi: Amid fears of a trade war, ministers from 53 countries will converge in the Capital later this month to put WTO talks back on track. The global body is facing an uncertain future as several countries led by the US are questioning the relevance of multilateralism.
The informal mini-ministerial meeting organized by India after talks collapsed in Buenos Aires, is meant to chart a roadmap for WTO’s future. It will also bring key players, including the European Union, China, South Africa, Brazil and Russia, face to face with the US, which is facing widespread criticism after President Donald Trump moved to raise duties on steel and aluminium, despite some of his closest advisers opposing the move.
While commerce minister Suresh Prabhu dismissed the fears during a chat with TOI, he said the meeting organized at India’s behest does give countries a chance to exchange views on the issue and also revive multilateral trade talks, which have been in limbo after its launch in Doha 16 years ago. While India has been criticized for holding up talks in the past, New Delhi is taking the lead this time with Prabhu promising that it will be a freewheeling discussion.
Asked about fears of a trade war, the minister said: “I don’t think that will happen. The US has also issued a statement saying that President Trump is for free trade.”
So far, 13 ministers have confirmed participation for the talks on March 19-20 with India keen to get US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for the dialogue. “It’s good for the US to come. If we all come together we will be able to understand its sentiment,” Prabhu said.
He said it was important for countries to engage and ensure that WTO remains strong. “Everywhere in the world you are seeing a growing phenomenon of creating borders and even countries that have been proponents of free trade and were looking down on countries, which were not opening their borders, are now thinking differently. In such times, we felt that we must bring all the big countries together.”
The minister said we don’t want to repeat the failure in Buenos Aires. “It is important for all countries to pursue free trade and WTO must remain. Free trade and WTO are now synonymous but we do not realize WTO’s importance because it’s rule based, its open, its transparent and it’s democratic and participative. It gives equal rights to everyone.”

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