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India softens stance to hammer out a "no harm" trade deal at WTO meet

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Perhaps first ministerial where India set the agenda: Piyush GoyalWTO Chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is congratulated by Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal after a closing session of the Ministerial Conference at the WTO headquarters in Geneva June 17, 2022. (Reuters)

After nearly hitting a deadlock over fisheries subsidies, the 164 member nations of the  (WTO) forged a bouquet of deals in the wee hours of Friday in Geneva by significantly lowering their ambitions.

The four-day conference, which kicked off on Sunday, was scheduled to end on June 15. However, it was extended by two more days to push trade ministers to hammer out a deal to maintain a sense of purpose at a multilateral organisation that is fighting for its relevance.

The deal included patent waiver to fight the pandemic, limited only to production and exports of vaccines that India had earlier termed as “too late in the day as the pandemic has run its initial course”. India’s demand to allow it to export food grain from its public stockholding could also not be agreed upon. On fisheries, though millions of Indian fishermen will not face any cut in state subsidies, countries were able to agree to only a partial deal to cut down illegal unreported, unregulated (IUU) especially by China and countries of the European Union.

India also climbed down from its demand to end

moratorium on customs duty on electronic transmission, which anyway was considered as a bargaining tool. At the end of the day, India was happy that it won’t have to take fresh disciplines in any sector even as a deal could be agreed up on.

ALSO READ: WTO's vaccine patent waiver may have little impact on ground now: Industry

Commerce and Industry Minister  said perhaps this was the first ministerial where India set the agenda. “We were on the front foot. We were telling other countries what need to be done.”

The outcome of the  is not only emblematic of the importance of a multilateral trading system but is also seen as an image makeover effort by India to be seen as a deal maker than a deal breaker.

Biswajit Dhar, professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University said countries have deliberately lowered their ambitions to at least get something on the table. “If you have high ambitions and fail, then it would have sent a signal that  can’t take decisions,” he added.

However, the WTO’s failure to include diagnostics and therapeutics in the patent waiver deal along with vaccines drew strongest criticism. Max Lawson, Co-Chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance and Head of Inequality Policy at Oxfam said this is absolutely not the broad intellectual property waiver the world desperately needs to ensure access to vaccines and treatments for everyone, everywhere. “This so-called compromise largely reiterates developing countries’ existing rights to override patents in certain circumstances. And it tries to restrict even that limited right to countries which do not already have capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Put simply, it is a technocratic fudge aimed at saving reputations, not lives,” he added.

ALSO READ: Goyal says India's 'firm stamp' visible in outcome of every WTO meeting

In October 2020, India and South Africa and 63 co-sponsors of the waiver proposal had made the TRIPS waiver proposal to help middle and low income nations get access to Covid-19 vaccines and drugs. However, the discussions reached a deadlock in the TRIPS Council. The final agreement fell short of the original proposal.

The global trade body was also able to build a consensus on the agreement on a 21-year old issue that aims to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and promote sustainable fishing. The final agreement removed the contentious clause, which proposed a ban on overfishing subsidies within seven years. India had called for a ban on subsidies in 25 years for countries fishing in areas beyond their exclusive economic zones.

According to the final deal, there will be checks on illegal unreported, unregulated fishing in India’s waters and elsewhere. Besides, no subsidies will be provided for fishing in areas outside exclusive economic zones.

The outcome document of the ministerial committed to work towards necessary reform of the  while reaffirming the foundational principles of the WTO and promised to revive the dispute settlement body in next two years.

Outcome of WTO MC12


What India wanted

No extension of customs duty moratorium on electronics transmissions

What it got

18-month extension of e-commerce moratorium

Review of scope, definition, and impact of moratoriumReview of scope, definition, and impact of moratorium

Agriculture, food security

What India wanted

Permanent solution to public stockholding for food security purposes

No exemptions for food purchases by WFP from export restrictions

Permission for exports of food grains from public stocks on govt-to-govt basis

What it got

No export restrictions on WFP purchases. Internal food security concerns to take precedence

Solution to public stockholding again deferred to next ministerial

TRIPS waiver

What India wanted

IP waiver for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics

What it got

TRIPS waiver only on vaccine with exports up to five years

Decision on diagnostics and therapeutics after six months


What India wanted

Exemption from subsidy cuts for developing countries fishing within EEZs

25-year ban on subsidies for countries fishing in areas beyond their EEZs

What India got

No restriction on subsidies for fishing within EEZs

No subsidies for fishing in areas outside EEZs

Check on illegal unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing by developed countries and China

Google Doodle honours physicist Ștefania Mărăcineanu, a key figure in radioactivity studies

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Google Doodle: On Ștefania Mărăcineanu's 140th birth anniversary, a look back on her life and times.Google Doodle honours physicist Ștefania Mărăcineanu, a key figure in radioactivity  studies

The Google Doodle on June 18 marked pioneering Romanian physicist Ștefania Mărăcineanu’s birth anniversary. She was a key figure in the discovery and study of radioactivity.

Google’s Doodle was nod to her study of polonium -- a radioactive element discovered by Polish-French physicist Marie Curie.

Mărăcineanu was born in Bucharest in 1882. Not much is known about her childhood.

She grew up to study physical and chemical science at the University of Bucharest. After graduating in 1910, she began teaching at the same school she had attended – the Central School for Girls.

While teaching at the school, Mărăcineanu was granted a scholarship by the Romanian Ministry of Science. She used that to pursue graduate research at the Radium Institute in Paris.

The institute was being helmed by Marie Curie and quickly emerging as global centre for the study of radioactivity. There, Mărăcineanu began her PhD thesis on polonium.

Mărăcineanu’s research at the Radium Institute shed light on artificial radioactivity for the first time. In 1935, when Marie Curie’s daughter Irène Curie and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie received a joint Nobel prize for discovering artificial radioactivity, Mărăcineanu demanded that her role be recognized too.

The Academy of Sciences of Romania recognised her work in 1936, appointing her as director of research. But she never attained global fame.

Mărăcineanu is remembered for founding Romania’ first laboratory for the study of Radioactivity. After thar, she spent her time researching artificial rain and study the link between earthquakes and rainfall.

Mărăcineanu became the first scientist to discover that before an earthquake, there was significant increase of radioactivity in the epicenter.

The physicist died in 1944. A significant part of her career -- her laboratory at the Radium Institute -- is to this date preserved at the Curie Museum in Paris.

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