(Bloomberg) -- India pushed back at suggestions that it’s blocking progress at a World Trade Organization meeting this week, saying it wants “fair play” in a global economy where the rules have long been tilted against poor nations.

Trade Minister Piyush Goyal, in an interview on day three of the four-day ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, said the South Asian country has neither raised any contentious issues nor has it stalled any process as it is “conscious of all its international obligations.”

“I am not blocking anything at the WTO, I have an open mind and am willing to engage with everybody on every issue,” Goyal said. “But clearly there are countries who are not working in the same spirit of accommodation, flexibility and openness.”

The minister said the top priority before the Geneva-based trade body is to restore the appellate body so pending disputes can be resolved. That’s a reference to the seven-person WTO panel of judges that stopped functioning in late 2019 after the US blocked new appointees.

Heading into the meeting’s final scheduled 24 hours, India is a key player in the negotiations and its positions are being closely watched as the WTO struggles to deliver deals on issues ranging from agriculture and e-commerce to reform of the institution itself. The multilateral trade body has delivered only two major agreements in its almost 30 years of existence. 

On advancing a fisheries agreement, Goyal said that India is not responsible for overfishing or overcapacity that is under discussion at the WTO.

Food Subsidies

“Since we are not a part of the problem we first need to know that those countries who are responsible for the problem, what will be the retribution, what will be the steps taken by them to reduce this problem. They have to answer, not me,” the minister said.

Asked about an extension of a WTO ban on e-commerce tariffs, he said India had agreed to renew the so-called moratorium on electronic transmissions in 2022 with an understanding that the extension was with a deadline. However, no efforts have been made so far to “find a solution to this.” 

On public procurement of grain for food program to feed its poor citizen, the minister said the issue is a mandated one and should be resolved. Reopening the issue will challenge the very “essence and foundation of the WTO.”

The world’s most populous nation — where 65% population lives in rural areas of which 47% depends on agriculture for livelihood — procures grains from farmers at predetermined prices to feed its 813.5 million poor people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has argued for relaxing subsidy rules to meet its domestic food-security needs amid a looming global food crisis. 

As Asia’s third-largest economy heads toward elections likely in April, which Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is poised to win for a third term, the agricultural-subsidy stance at the ministerial is crucial for farmers which form a significant voting bloc.

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