The covid pandemic has wreaked havoc on a scale that typically occurs once every hundred years. The aftermath – persistent health problems, reduced productivity and disruption of economic networks – will be felt for a long time to come. Ironically, there is also the proverbial silver lining: India finds itself in a position to seek redress for historical wrongs perpetuated in international organizations. But before that happens, India needs to decide which face to wear.

An arrow has already been shot across the bow of the World Trade Organization (WTO) which, if it goes the distance, could change the grammar of global trade. India, along with 44 African countries, Cuba and Pakistan, submitted a note to the WTO (bit.ly/3T7E6dP) at its June 2022 ministerial meeting. The 11-page note seeks to redress historic imbalances which were incorporated when the organization was founded in 1995 and disadvantage the developing world.

Interestingly, some of India’s past concerns in other areas are increasingly finding solutions. In a recent op-ed, Dinesh Kanabar, CEO of tax consultancy Dhruva Advisors, wrote about how India has helped realign the global tax regime. It must also be said, without detracting from India’s stubborn pursuit of its ambitions, that some of the global recognition has come reluctantly, and only when it suited wealthy nations. A shining example is provided by the Pillar 1 recommendations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which sought to create global rules that will force profitable multinational enterprises (MNEs) to reallocate part of their profits to countries where they sell their products and services.

India was among the first countries to increase this demand because many multinational companies operating in India regularly shifted their profits to tax-friendly regimes and avoided paying taxes in India. The United States and the European Union became aware of the problem when they realized that large software companies were paying corporate taxes out of proportion to reported profits. US President Joe Biden’s flagship economic legislation – the Cut Inflation Act, a simplified version of the Build Back Better Bill – introduced a new alternative minimum corporate tax of 15% for companies reporting a profit minimum of $1 billion. A White House fact sheet showed that 55 of the wealthiest corporations in the United States paid no taxes in 2020.

It should also be remembered that India’s efforts to reform global rules, including structural flaws in the WTO, have continued under different governments in New Delhi, regardless of political persuasion, such as the successful passage of a relay in a relay race. For example, the Indian government’s fight for trade fairness at the WTO, particularly its unwavering pursuit of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) since 2001, has been fought by various regimes, albeit inconsistently.

The latest WTO reconfiguration proposal will now be discussed in the General Council, the trade organization’s highest decision-making body. The focus will be on reviving some DDA commitments that advanced countries have repeatedly blocked. The note states: “WTO reform does not mean accepting inequalities inherited from the past or new proposals that would aggravate imbalances. Three questions are at the center of our concerns.

The first, of course, is to correct the imbalances in a number of areas: imbalanced agricultural trade rules that allow OECD countries to provide high subsidies, and comprehensive support measures for farmers but deny the same to developing countries; rules on trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS), which rich countries have converted into an instrument that thwarts competition; the disparity of subsidies intended to promote industrialization, with advanced economies using them liberally during their phase of industrial development, but denying developing countries the same path to industrialization.

The second issue is getting the WTO to recognize that the world is made up of different countries with different development challenges and priorities. This implicitly implies that, depending on the level of development, varying degrees of state intervention will be needed to address market failures or achieve development goals. The message is clear: the WTO should not try to dictate a sovereign’s economic model. The third issue is the disproportionate impact of covid on developing countries and the need for the WTO to foster international cooperation of the kind that ensures universal and timely access to medical products and a clear path to economic recovery. faster.

The aftermath of Covid and the Russian-Ukrainian war now fortuitously puts India in a unique negotiating position, with a slightly larger share of voice in global governance. India also happens to hold the presidency of the G20 this year. The stars seem aligned but will only yield results when hard work wins out over rhetoric; currently, doublespeak threatens to confuse the course of the Indian crusades. At the WTO, for example, he is ready to go to bed with partners he aggressively vilifies at home. It cannot have one face at home and another for the global market. There is also the problem of capacity deficit: India passed up opportunities earlier, either because negotiators were overwhelmed or because some big deals were done privately. Indian leaders must decide whether to seize this moment or just exploit their rhetorical perspectives.

Rajrishi Singhal is a political consultant and journalist. His Twitter handle is @rajrisishinghal.

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