The World Trade Organization’s 12th Ministerial Conference (June 12-16) recently concluded in Geneva, Switzerland. The WTO is the only global international body that sets the rules of trade between countries. Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies Dilendra Prasad Badu had led the Nepali delegation to the conference. Kamal Dev Bhattarai caught up with him.
What major agendas did Nepal raise at the conference?
Nepal is a member of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) group in the WTO. We have a plan of elevating to a ‘developing country’ status by 2026. The interactions that took place at this conference were substantive. We were able to put forth our position firmly. For smooth and irreversible graduation, I emphasized the need for continuation of all international support measures, particularly duty- and quota-free market access, special and differential treatment, preferential rules of origin, service waiver, aid for trade, and flexibilities in the implementation of multilateral trade rules and commitments. However, the issue of giving LDCs a transitional period even after their graduation remains contentious.
Besides, Nepal also raised the issue of food security, among other urgent ones. Since a let-up in the covid pandemic, in line with other economies, Nepal's economy has also regained some momentum. However, it’s getting hard to reposition the country’s economy to the pre-pandemic level, mainly due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has impacted the price of petroleum products. The key challenges for Nepal’s economy continue to be widening trade deficit, depleting foreign currency reserves, and poor industrial development.
What challenges will Nepal face after graduating from the LDC status?
Graduation offers us both opportunities and challenges. It brings challenges due to loss of some exemptions and flexibilities. At this critical juncture, we have urged international forums, especially the WTO, the UN and other multilateral funding agencies to ensure adequate transitional support to facilitate smooth, irreversible and sustainable graduation.
The challenges posed by unforeseen crises have reversed our past development achievements, while weakening our ability to achieve SDGs (sustainable development goals) by 2030. Graduating from the LDC status is our common objective as not a single country in this category wishes to remain there forever. Sooner or later, we all want to graduate.
The LDCs are strongly pushing for a reform of the WTO. What is Nepal’s position on this?
At the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, I strongly pitched for all members to stand in favor of reform to make this organization true to its purposes and objectives. But each member country has a different view on the modality of the reform.
In our view, the process should be member-driven, and the LDCs should not be saddled with additional obligations.
Bilateral engagements are equally important to enhance our exports. Did you hold any bilateral talks at the sidelines of the conference?
Along with multilateral arrangements via the WTO, we have to adjust many issues through bilateral means. I held bilateral talks with trade ministers of some countries. For instance, I met India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal to discuss a range of bilateral issues. I also held talks with my Bangladeshi counterpart.
India recently banned the export of wheat, which could exacerbate Nepal’s food insecurity. Did you raise the issue with your Indian counterpart?
I held an extensive dialogue on a range of issues with minister Goyal. I told him that India’s decision to ban the export of wheat and sugar is a cause for concern for us. He assured me that its neighboring countries are exempt from India’s policy of restricting export.
He even made a commitment that there would be no food crisis in Nepal. I also raised other trade and commerce-related issues with Minister Goyal, including the challenges faced by Nepali industries, particularly concerning exports. He said that any bilateral problems between India and Nepal could be resolved through consultations. He has asked Nepal to come up with a document clearly outlining its problems with exports.