India is expected to press for removal of protectionist measures and promotion of free trade as it would benefit all the WTO (World Trade Organisation) member countries, an official said.
The two-day meeting, being attended by representatives of 50 countries, including the US, some African nations and China, comes against the backdrop of imposition of import duties on steel and aluminium by the US administration, and Washington dragging India to the WTO against export incentive programmes.
The idea of the meeting is to “create an atmosphere, so that this negativity around global trade and multilateral trading system should reduce and all the countries should benefit from open trade”, Prabhu has said.
Although India has invited Pakistan for the meeting, the neighbouring country has decided to skip the conference.
The meeting, that started today, also assumes significance as the global trade appears fragile with certain developed countries threatening to retaliate the duty hike on steel and aluminium products by the Trump administration.
WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, who is here for the meet, said: "We are facing many challenges in the WTO and outside. Trade environment globally is very risky at this point of time. We will try to have an open and honest conversation at the informal WTO meeting here".
He told reporters that the outcome of the meeting here will be "useful to the conversations that we will be having in Geneva to try and move forward on all the items".
The meeting would also discuss the issue of appointment of members of the appellate body of the WTO's dispute settlement body. The US has blocked appointment of these members, which would hamper its functioning.
According to the commerce ministry, the meeting will provide an opportunity to engage in free and frank discussions with the hope that it will lead to political guidance on some major issues.
The meeting has been convened by India in the aftermath of failure of the trade talks at Buenos Aires last year on account of differences among the members of the WTO.
The rich nations are forming groupings to prepare ground for pushing new issues such as investment facilitation, preparing rules for e-commerce, promoting gender equality and reducing subsidy on fisheries.
India has been keenly pushing agriculture issues at the World Trade Organisation. It has also been raising its voice against bringing new issues, especially those which are not directly linked to trade, to the negotiating table.
The talks at the WTO's 11th ministerial conference collapsed after the US went back on its commitment to find a permanent solution to the public food stockholding issue, a key matter for India.
The four-day conference in Argentina, which ended without a ministerial declaration or any substantive outcome, did manage to make some feeble progress on fisheries and e-commerce by agreeing to work programmes