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International relations

WTO General Council adjourns after India refuses to discuss agenda

Some members want Doha Round wrapped up before moving to new negotiations

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The headquarters of the World Trade Organization in Geneva   © Reuters

GENEVA -- The World Trade Organization's General Council has been suspended since the day it kicked off a meeting on May 10 because India refuses to discuss newly proposed plans for the facilitation of direct investment.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo was planning to visit Japan from Monday to meet with senior government officials, after attending the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. Because of the abnormal situation of the General Council's recess, however, Azevedo decided to return to Geneva to work on a compromise. 

The WTO's General Council is its most important decision-making body aside from public ministerial conferences, which are held every two years. The General Council has been tasked with deciding the range of issues for negotiation by ministerial conferences scheduled for December. 

A diplomat in Geneva lamented India's stance and said he could not believe the country is even unwilling to hold discussions. 

With the WTO's Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations held up, some member countries have refused to begin negotiations over new area of discussion before the Doha Round is concluded. India refused to start preliminary discussions about the facilitation of direct investment at the General Council, saying the item is not included in the Doha Round. Some African and Latin American member countries have reportedly sided with India. 

According to diplomatic sources, India is hoping to get an OK for the public farm product stockpiling system on a permanent basis. India buys and stockpiles grain and other farm products at prices above market value to support its farmers. India claims the measure relates to food security, but its stockpiling program is supported by subsidies intended to win farmers' votes in elections. If the temporary agreement that allows public stock holdings is lifted, it could be in violation of the WTO agreement, said one observer.

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