United States seeking to sabotage multilateral dispute mechanism: Marianne Hagen

United States seeking to sabotage multilateral dispute mechanism: Marianne Hagen

Norway, India must cooperate to strengthen WTO: Norwegian Deputy Minister

Warning that the U.S. is seeking to sabotage the World Trade Organization (WTO), Marianne HagenDeputy Minister, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says that India must work to strengthen the multilateral trading organisation, and also calls for India to join a WTO Ministerial convention to end fishing subsidies for illegal fishing units in 2019. Ms. Hagen was in Delhi and Mumbai this past week for meetings with Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu. Excerpts from an interview:

The focus of your India visit has been the blue economy. What kind of collaboration do you envisage with India?

We are very encouraged that PM Modi made the blue economy one of the most important issues in the Budget. It has been just a month since our PM [Erna Solberg] and PM Narendra Modi met, and the speed with which their agreements have moved is also very encouraging. We have now signed a letter of intent for cooperating on marine pollution and we have identified areas for cooperation. We also spoke of developing ferry services that are eco-friendly. Norway has about 70 electric or hybrid ferries running, and India could benefit from our technologies as well as our logistics services.

You are also discussing WTO issues with Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu. What are the big concerns?

I think the WTO as an organisation is clearly under stress, and it is so important for all smaller countries [like Norway], that when the U.S. is sabotaging the dispute settlement system, we cannot look at that problem in isolation, but work with other countries so that the problem doesn’t block the system. We want to have discussions with India and other countries on what they need in order for the WTO to work better for them, so that we can modernise the organisation.

Specifically, what would you want India to work with Norway on?

To start with, we must address the dispute settlement system. Then, we must look at development, which is no longer fair. Norway doesn’t have a solution, but Norway can be part of the search for it. Norway is part of the Canadian group, for example, a group of 13 countries that aims at modernising the world trading system. I think the world order is under stress from many things.

The WTO is the best we have and it can’t be replaced, but it can be made better and more representative of the present day realities. If the WTO goes, and countries go back to working on problems bilaterally, that might work for the bigger economies [U.S., China] and India, but what about the rest of us?

We are all small potatoes, and we will not be the first choice for trading with. So we will just stand in line and it will never be our turn to negotiate free trade agreements with India. That is why we need the WTO.

You said the U.S. was ‘sabotaging’ the system but others are also losing interest in multilateral organisations…

The WTO system is like the diaphragm or the base on which global trade stands. I know that not everyone has benefitted from globalisation, but if you look at the world as a whole and see the millions who have been brought out of poverty because of global trade, you can see how important it is.

And the WTO, or the rule-based global system, is what small countries have in order to keep a fair share of it.

And, we want developing countries to realise that when they ask for investments and private sector growth in their economies, they need to see the problems of countries like Norway. So, Norway is trying to bring these problems at the top level. We need presidents and prime ministers to engage at the WTO, not only trade ministers or diplomats.

Norway is also working towards an agreement at the WTO on ending fishing subsidies…

Overfishing, or what is called Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is another example of the unfair practices that we want to talk about. Overfishing is to a large extent done by subsidised fishing vessels and subsidised fleets in developing countries.

Those fishing subsidies hurt the economy of India, especially its coastal states, and at the same time contribute to overfishing. I am trying to connect the ocean agenda and the blue economy, with the conversations we are having at the WTO on fishing subsidies and the need to level the playing field. This has to be finished by December 2019, and if we conclude an agreement we will achieve two outcomes: lessen the pressure on the fish stocks by reducing fleets responsible for overfishing, and we will build more investment in the WTO.

One of the success stories we have seen with Russia, despite our other problems, is that we have been able to work out quota systems and resource management systems between us that have worked for 40 years. Maybe, that is a lesson to be learnt here in India too [with Pakistan and Sri Lanka].

Norway has often been accused of encouraging its own oil industry, while advising developing countries on climate change commitments. How do you respond?

If you compare the emissions from the Norwegian gas and oil industry, the new technologies we are developing make 16 times less emissions than other oil productions. But fossils will always be fossils and the world’s need for energy is expected to increase by 30% by 2050, and the energy has to come from somewhere.

So, we can replace coal, which is the worst source, with oil and replace oil with more environmentally-friendly oil, then gas, and then renewables. We can’t switch off the fossils yet, but we can work really hard on trying to replace them.

With India’s growing population and need for energy, India has fantastic opportunities for solar and offshore wind production of electricity. India’s growth must be as sustainable as possible.

Emissions per capita maybe low, but the growth India needs is much more. We have about 100 ongoing research projects with India on this looking for best practices in renewable energies and smart grids. We have launched many jointly financed projects with India in the past year.

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