1. Simple idea that catalysed game changing reactions

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

2021 Laureates Benjamin List (left) and David Macmillan. (Nobel Prize website)

“Simple ideas are often the most difficult to imagine,” the Nobel Prize committee said while honouring Benjamin List and David MacMillan with this year’s Chemistry Nobel.

The simple idea that List and MacMillan came up with, working independently, was to look for new catalysts, the substances used to accelerate chemical reactions, when most believed they were stuck with an existing, somewhat inefficient, set.

The new catalysts, derived from naturally-occurring chemicals, were greener and cheaper, and ensured that the end product of the chemical reaction was of a specific variety — and did not need to go through a purification process to yield the desired type of compound.

“The discovery being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 has taken molecular construction to an entirely new level,” the Nobel committee said. “Its uses include research into new pharmaceuticals and it has also helped make chemistry greener.”


When two or more compounds react to form new compounds, the process is often aided by other chemicals that do not change themselves, but help speed up the reaction. These catalysts have been known at least since the middle of the 19th century, and are used in virtually every chemical process these days.

Till around 2000, only two kinds of chemicals were known to act as effective catalysts: metals, mainly heavier metals; and enzymes, naturally-occurring heavy molecules that facilitate all life-supporting biochemical processes. Both these sets of catalysts had limitations.

Heavier metals are expensive, difficult to mine, and toxic to humans and the environment. Despite the best processes, traces remained in the end product; this posed problems in situations where compounds of very high purity were required, like in the manufacture of medicines. Also, metals required an environment free of water and oxygen, which was difficult to ensure on an industrial scale.

Enzymes on the other hand, work best when water is used as a medium for the chemical reaction. But that is not an environment suitable for all kinds of chemical reactions.


List and MacMillan, both 53, started experimenting with simple organic compounds. Organic compounds are mostly naturally-occurring substances, built around a framework of carbon atoms and usually containing hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, or phosphorus. Life-supporting chemicals like proteins, which are long chains of amino acids (carbon compounds containing nitrogen and oxygen) are organic. Enzymes are also proteins, and therefore, organic compounds.

List and MacMillan were aware of earlier research from the 1970s, in which an amino acid called proline was used as a catalyst in some specific reactions. But its role was not fully explored. They started working with individual amino acids in enzymes — and struck gold.

Asymmetric catalysis

The individual amino acids had an added advantage: they ensured only one variety of the end product was yielded in the reaction.

Substances can have exactly the same chemical composition and molecular formula; yet differ widely in their properties. They are known as isomers. One type of isomers are those that differ in the way individual atoms are oriented in three-dimensional space. Two molecules could be exactly the same, except that they are mirror images of each other, like our hands. For simplicity, scientists often refer to these molecules as left-handed or right-handed. This simple difference can sometimes have enormous consequences, because it allows the molecules to bind in different locations when they interact with other molecules.

The end product in a chemical reaction is usually a mixture of left-handed and right-handed molecules. The normal chemical reactions carried out in laboratories are not selective in this regard. But nature is. Because the mirror images can have very different properties, natural processes are extremely selective, and precise. They produce either a left-handed or a right-handed molecule.

List and MacMillan discovered that by using a natural compound like an amino acid as a catalyst, they were obtaining only one specific mirror image of the end-product. This was later named asymmetric catalysis.

“List and MacMillan came up with an absolute game changer. The field of organo-catalysts, a name that MacMillan later used to describe these new sets of catalysts, has exploded in the last two decades. They discovered a simple, ingenious tool but its impact has been huge, mainly in the pharmaceutical industry, but also in several other places,” said Prof R G Bhat of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune, who works with organo-catalysts himself.

Dr S Chandrashekhar, director of Hyderabad-based Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, said the big significance of the work was that it made the processes much safer and more sustainable than earlier.

“I am also very happy to note that Nobel committee selected a breakthrough in pure Chemistry this time. In the past, the Chemistry Nobel has often recognised work that essentially belonged in the realm of biology,” he said.

Source: The Indian Express

2. Why is coal shortage choking thermal power plants?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

India’s thermal power plants are facing a severe coal shortage, with coal stocks having come down to an average of four days of fuel across an increasing number of thermal stations. Union Power Minister R K Singh has said that while the supply crunch has not yet led to any power cuts in the country, the coal supply situation is likely to be “uncomfortable” for up to six months.

What is the extent of the coal shortage that thermal power plants are facing?

The average level of coal stocks at an increasing number of India’s thermal power plants have come down to four days worth of stock compared to the government recommendations that thermal power plants hold 14 days worth of coal stock. On October 4, 16 thermal power plants with a power generation capacity of 17,475 MW (mega watts) had zero days of coal stock. An additional 45 thermal power plants with a power generation capacity of 59,790 MW had coal stock only sufficient for up to two days of generation.

In total, plants with a power generation capacity of 132 Gigawatts (1GW is 1,000 MW) of the 165 GW of capacity monitored daily, had critical or super critical levels of coal stock. The shortage of coal is more acute in non-pithead plants or plants which are not located close to coal mines with such plants accounting for 98 of the 108 plants seen to have critical levels of stock i.e under eight days. India’s coal fired thermal power plants account for 208.8 GW or 54 per cent of India’s 388 GW installed generation capacity.

What is the reason behind India’s coal shortage?

A sharp uptick in power demand as the economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with supply issues have led to the current coal shortage. India consumed 124 billion units of power in August 2021 compared to 106 billion units of power in August 2019 which was not impacted by the pandemic.

Coal fired thermal power plants have also supplied a higher proportion of the increase in demand leading the share of thermal power in India’s power mix increasing to 66.4% from 61.9% in 2019.

Singh said the government has connected an additional 28.2 million households and these households are buying lights, fans and television sets leading to an increase in power demand. “We touched 200 Gigawatts during the Covid period, and the demand has been hovering around 170-180 GW. I expect it to go up again to near about 200GW, and stay there,” Singh told The Indian Express in an interview.

The trend for higher daily demand is still continuing with total demand for power in the country hitting 174 GW on October 4, up 15 GW from the same day in 2020.

Other key reasons for the supply crunch include lower than normal stock accumulation by thermal power plants in the April-June period and continuous rainfall in coal bearing areas in August and September which led to lower production and fewer despatches of coal from coal mines. A consistent move to lower imports coupled with high international prices of coal have also led to plants cutting imports.

What measures is the government taking to address the situation?

An inter-ministerial team, including representatives of the Power and Railway Ministries, Coal India Ltd, the Central Electricity Authority and Power System Operation Corporation, is monitoring the supply of coal to thermal power plants.

The government is pressing thermal plants with captive coal mines to boost their coal output so that they can meet more of their own demand and is also prioritising coal supplies for thermal power plants with low levels of stock. The Power Ministry is also trying to increase the supply of coal by expediting the start of production from a number of mines that already have all requisite clearances in place.

“Somewhere, the clearances are available, the bidding for MDOs (Mine Developer and Operator) etc is (going on). Where the clearance and land is available that can be expedited. Where the clearances are pending, I have taken up with the environment ministry,” Singh said.

The government has also boosted the number of rakes of coal being transported to thermal power plants daily with 263 rakes of coal dispatched from coal mines on Monday up from 248 rakes on Sunday. “It is expected that the despatches from coal lines will increase further,” the government said in a release.

Source: The Indian Express

3. WHO’s stark message on air quality — and what India must do

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment

In updating its already strict air quality guidelines (AQGs), the WHO last month sent out a stark message: that the impact of poor air quality on public health is at least twice as bad as previously estimated. India has 37 of the world’s 50 most polluted cities, despite its air quality standards being more lax. For instance, its standards for PM2.5 and PM10 are 60 and 100 µg/m3 respectively (over 24 hours), while the WHO’s new standards are 15 and 45 µg/m3 (over 24 hours).

Not surprisingly, India’s air pollution-influenced mortality rates are among the worst. The Global Burden of Disease estimates that India lost 1.67 million lives in 2019 directly as a result of breathing polluted air, or because of pre-existing conditions exacerbated by air pollution. Uttar Pradesh had the biggest share at 3.4 lakh, Maharashtra had 1.3 lakh, and Rajasthan 1.1 lakh.

The average life expectancy in Delhi is 6.4 years lower than the national average of 69.4, and the number is starting to fall for even coastal cities like Mumbai and Chennai. Globally, it is estimated that exposure to PM2.5 kills 3.3 million people every year, most of them in Asia.

India’s predicament

The problem is, our economic growth is built on fossil fuels. Coal, oil, and natural gas account for roughly 75% of our power generation and >97% of road transport, but they come at the cost of heavy CO, SO2, NO2, ozone, and particulate matter emissions. And herein lies the predicament: India prides itself on being the fastest growing large economy, and changing the way we generate power and clamping down on petrol and diesel vehicles is seen as throttling economic progress.

Yet at the same time, the ever-growing need for energy and personal vehicles is worsening the public health crisis. There is now almost a sense among people that toxic air is just a part of life in the city.

The killer threat

It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the situation. The health impacts of PM2.5 exposure now include lung cancer, cerebrovascular disease, ischaemic heart disease and acute lower respiratory illness, besides exacerbating ailments like depression. Exposure to ozone has been linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Prolonged exposure to air pollutants affects newborns and babies still in the womb. While mothers may have to deal with the trauma of premature deliveries and stillbirths, foetuses face increased risk of being born with lungs that are not yet developed to function properly, and congenital defects that can impact the rest of their lives. Simply put, air pollution is a threat to generations even before they are born.

Losses to economy

A 2019 study found that India’s horrendous air quality erased 3% of its GDP for the year and caused a loss of nearly Rs 7 lakh crore (~USD 95 billion). Most of the loss was due to employees failing to show up at work, far fewer people stepping out to buy goods, and foreign tourists staying away after health warnings. Official figures indicate a loss of 820,000 jobs in the tourism industry and 64% of businesses squarely blame air pollution.

Poor air quality was found to offset 67% of the cost advantage of using solar panels over grid power, as ground-level smog and the particulate matter chokes their power output. Also, several studies have noted a 25% drop in crop yield for wheat and rice after prolonged exposure to PM and ozone.

Way forward

It’s a crisis that affects everyone. What India needs to do without delay is to revisit its National Ambient Air Quality Standards, revise them down to WHO levels, and implement them without exception. Unfortunately, the new WHO guidelines are not legally binding, so a critical first step is to conduct nationwide epidemiological studies and gather expansive raw health data on air pollution as a risk factor. Without this it would be difficult to get a picture of just how many Indians, regardless of age, gender and occupation, are suffering under bad air, and would render efforts to tackle the problem meaningless.

Most importantly, the authorities must acknowledge that Indians are no less susceptible to air pollution — so to continue with laxer standards for the sake of industry places a life-threatening burden on the average resident.

The China example

China went through a similar phase. In transforming itself as the world’s manufacturing hub, its cities were subjected to manic air pollution and Beijing was notorious for its smog. But it has had success in tackling the issue, even though after 10 years it is still not WHO-compliant. It has prioritised zero-emissions transport, staggered the use of internal combustion engine vehicles, and enforced a strict clampdown on point sources of pollution that allows for few exceptions, if at all. What’s most impressive is that the country is now the largest market for electric vehicles and clean energy, its per capita incomes have never been higher, and its influence as an economic powerhouse is still on the rise. It refutes the myth that clamping down on air pollution stymies economic growth.

Cleaner energy

India’s National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) attempts to incorporate such solutions, but e-mobility and clean energy in India are not yet dominant in their respective sectors. The good news is states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Telangana have introduced policies to speed up their market shares, and EVs’ year-on-year sales are posting record figures.

The share of renewable energy has also risen dramatically since 2015 to cross 100 GW in August 2021, which is almost a quarter of the country’s installed power capacity. But there is a long way to go still.

Better monitoring

Another equally essential step is to expand the country’s air quality monitoring network. The CPCB-controlled CAAQMS monitors are expensive — each costs upward of Rs 20 lakh — and there are only 312 of them spread across 156 cities. This leaves many urban and rural pockets unmonitored to understand the full extent of their air pollution.

Fortunately a number of new, low-cost monitors have entered service, that capture readings for not only PM2.5 and 10 but also gases like NO2, SO2, methane, and secondary volatile organic compounds. Still, the Centre and state governments must boost the density of the CAAQMS network to fully inform the science behind the corrective measures, and all of this needs to happen on priority. Given the scale of our public health crisis, wasting any more time could very well lead to a public health emergency.

Source: The Indian Express

4. The story of Corbett National Park, and the man behind the name

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment

With Union Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey proposing to change the name of Corbett National Park to Ramganga National Park, a look at the origins of the park and the legacy of the man who lent it its name.

The name

Jim Corbett’s name has lent itself to India’s oldest and most celebrated national parks and to the cottage industry that has grown around it. From guesthouses to hair saloons, from general stores to gift shops, Corbett’s name lives on in and around the forests of Uttarakhand where the celebrated hunter-naturalist once lived and whose efforts led to the establishment of the national park.

Jim Corbett (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

But the Park was not always called Corbett. Set up in 1936 as India’s — and Asia’s — first national park, it was called Hailey National Park after Sir Macolm Hailey, the governor of the United Province. It was renamed Ramganga National Park, named after the river that flows through it, shortly after Independence and was rechristened yet again as Corbett National Park in 1956.

“This was one of the few instances when something was named after an Englishman after Independence. Usually, things named after the English were renamed after Independence but this was the other way around,” says Stephen Alter, author of In the Jungles of the Night: A Novel About Jim Corbett (2016, Aleph Book Company). “It was at the insistence of Corbett’s friend, the great freedom fighter from Kumaon and the first chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Govind Ballabh Pant, that the park was renamed after him, to honour his conservation efforts,” says Alter, whose book draws on many Corbett stories to paint a sparkling portrait of the man.

The park

Located in the Himalayan foothills near the tourist hill station of Nainital, Corbett National Park is spread over 520 sq km and is part of the Corbett Tiger Reserve which is over 1,288 sq km. The national park along with the neighbouring 301-sq km-Sonanadi Wildlife Sanctuary together make the critical tiger habitat of the Corbett Tiger Reserve.

With its hills, grasslands and streams, it is ideal tiger territory. The place from where Project Tiger was launched in 1973, with its tiger population at 163, it boasts of a single largest tiger population in a tiger reserve and one of the highest tiger densities in the country. Home to a number of species, including 600 elephants and over 600 species of birds, the majestic forest is a big draw with tourists.

Jim Corbett, the hunter, the naturalist

Born in Nainital in 1875, Edward James Corbett lived in India till Independence, after which he left for Kenya where he died in 1955. India’s best known hunter, Corbett earned fame after he tracked down and killed a number of man-eating tigers and leopards (he is said to have killed over a dozen). But he was known equally well as a storyteller whose shikar yarns and forest tales kept his audience under a spell, and, later, as a conservationist.

An ace shot, Corbett was called upon regularly by the government to track and shoot man-eaters in the villages of Garhwal and Kumaon in Uttarakhand. Son of a postmaster and one of many siblings, Corbett along with his family would come down from the hills every winter to their winter home in Kaladhungi in the foothills, which houses a museum now.

The foothills would be his training grounds, where he would learn — or as he would say “absorb” — the ways of the forest, jungle lore and much more. “I have used the word ‘absorbed’, in preference to ‘learnt’, for jungle lore is not a science that can be learnt from textbooks,” he wrote. He would absorb the forest like the back of his hand, a skill that would hold him in good stead in his hunting expeditions, captured so vividly in the Man-eaters of Kumaon (1944), The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag (1948), The Temple Tiger and More Man-eaters of Kumaon (1955), and other gripping accounts. His books are as much an account of nature as they are of people. My India (1952) is an intimate account of the people he met both in the hills and in the plains — in Mokameh Ghat in Bihar, where his work in the Railways took him while Jungle Lore (1953) meanders through forests in sun and shadow to capture the calls of animals and birds and even an occasional banshee. From the racket-tailed drongo who “can imitate to perfection the calls of most birds and of one animal, the cheetal” to himself understanding and imitating the calls of birds and animals, Jungle Lore shows you just how much of a riveting storyteller Corbett is, letting you absorb the forest rather than learn it.

Corbett, who volunteered in both the World Wars and was given the honorary rank of colonel, spent much of his life with his sister Maggie. In his later years, he all but gave up hunting, turning instead to wildlife photography and conservation. Corbett was one of the first persons to take cine-films of tigers in the wild, writes Alter.

Jim Corbett with the slain Bachelor of Powalgarh, an unusually large Bengal tiger.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

His legacy

“When the park was made (in 1936, hunting was prohibited in 1934), there was no dearth of forest nor of prey base, so the contribution of Jim Corbett was that he saw much before anyone else that because of the spread of roads, motor car and loosening of control of arms, the tiger did not stand much of a chance,” says Rajiv Bhartari, who was director of Corbett Tiger Reserve from 2005 to 2008 and is now principal chief conservator of forests (head of forest force), Uttarakhand. “So, he used all his skills, contacts and resources to work towards the establishment of Asian mainland’s first national park. It was Corbett’s vision that the tiger needed protection. The national park today presents over eight decades of conservation.”

Corbett’s legacy, perhaps, lies in his early understanding of the link between conservation and community. “This path between protection and local welfare is a very tough path and Jim Corbett had a coherent philosophy. Not only did he try to work towards protection of tigers but he was equally sensitive and compassionate towards the villagers,” says Bhartari who has supervised research both on Corbett’s legacy and the history of Corbett National Park at the Wildlife Institute of India. “He was instrumental in setting up Chhoti Haldwani as a model Kumaoni village. In Corbett, there has been a connection between conservation and local people. When Corbett National Park was formed, the initial boundary was very carefully determined that no rights of villagers were affected. From its inception, it has enjoyed the goodwill of people, because of Jim Corbett. I think that’s his legacy, the unique relationship between people and conservation. Today we talk of development, of agriculture, but Corbett spent much of his latter life in trying to improve agriculture in Chhoti Haldwani by spreading seeds, strengthening irrigation and encouraging villagers to grow not just for consumption but for sale. In his house itself, he let a worker run a tea shop to give him a source of living and finally when he went to Kenya, he gifted all his land to the villagers he had settled in Chhoti Haldwani,” says Bhartari.

The proposed renaming, says Alter, is insignificant, “so long as Corbett’s legacy of conservation continues.” “You can call Connaught Place Rajiv Chowk, but it doesn’t change people’s memories of the place. What’s important is not the name but that conservation efforts in the Park are strengthened,” says Alter.

Source: The Indian Express

5. Recognising altruism: On rewarding Good Samaritans on road

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

Awarding Good Samaritans

The initiative of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to award Good Samaritans who save lives of road accident victims with a cash prize is a welcome attempt to reduce India’s staggering annual death toll from mishaps. Ranking third among 20 nations that have the highest number of accidents, India fares far worse on an important metric — cases to fatalities ratio — compared to the U.S. and Japan, which have more recorded crashes but fewer deaths. During 2020, even with severely disrupted mobility due to COVID-19, National Crime Records Bureau data show 1,33,715 lives were lost in 1,20,716 cases attributed to negligence relating to road accidents.

Under the Motor Vehicles law, a Good Samaritan voluntarily helps an accident victim with no expectation of payment or reward, and has no legal obligation to record his involvement or aid the investigation in the case.

Challenges faced by Good Samaritans

In spite of an entire chapter being added to the Motor Vehicles Act last year to sensitise police forces and hospitals on this, altruism is affected by the perception of harassment and legal complications. The Ministry’s latest move seeks to overcome reticence by rewarding socially minded individuals who offer immediate assistance and rush a victim with certain kinds of injuries to hospital, with ₹5,000 and a certificate of recognition for saving a life. State governments are responsible for the plan, with the Centre providing an initial grant, but the Union Transport Ministry will give its own award of ₹1 lakh each to the 10 best Good Samaritans in a year.

Achieving a reduction in mortality on India’s largely lawless roads warrants determined action on several factors, beginning with scientific road design and standards, and zero tolerance enforcement. It was only on September 3 that the Centre notified the long-pending National Road Safety Board, with a mandate to formulate standards on, among other things, safety and trauma management, to build capacity among traffic police, and put crash investigation on a scientific footing. Yet, on enforcement, State police forces generally appear to favour a populist approach of least engagement; regional transport bureaucracies — compared by Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari in 2015 to looting Chambal dacoits — can also benefit from a shake-up. As a steadily motorising country, the goal must be to reduce accidents and the ratio of deaths and injuries to cases. The Good Samaritan plan can work well if District Committees tasked with awarding these individuals readily recognise their contribution, aided by the police, hospitals and RTOs. Many more people will continue to be impelled by sheer altruism to help road users involved in a crash, and governments should get bureaucratic barriers out of their way.

Source: The Hindu

6. Trade multilateralism at risk

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

The World Trade Organization (WTO) — the global trade body — is facing a serious existential crisis. The upcoming WTO ministerial meeting scheduled for next month in Geneva provides an opportunity to rescue this critical global institution from irrelevance. Created in 1995, during the heyday of neoliberalism, the WTO became a shining example of triumphant free-market capitalism. It championed a rule-based multilateral trading order. Critics of neoliberalism chastised the WTO for pushing the American imperialist agenda. Paradoxically, more than two-and-a-half decades later, the United States, which played a pivotal role in establishing the WTO, seems to have lost interest in it. The feeling in Washington is that the WTO hasn’t served the American national interest by failing to stem China’s rise and regularly indicting the U.S. in several trade disputes. President Joe Biden, notwithstanding his credentials as an internationalist, has continued with the same policy towards the WTO that Donald Trump practised.

The continuation of the U.S. policy on the WTO is most evident in the sustained crippling of the Appellate Body (AB). The AB is part of the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism, also known as the “crown jewel” of the organisation. It is a permanent body with seven members, and acts as an appellate court hearing appeals from the decisions given by WTO panels. Three out of seven AB members serve on any one case. However, since December 2019, the AB has stopped functioning due to rising vacancies. Over the years, the U.S. has consistently blocked the appointment of AB members. Not just this, the U.S. also vetoes proposals to find solutions to this impasse, including stalling the proposal of the European Union to establish an alternative interim appellate arbitration mechanism. The number of pending appeals to the AB has increased sharply to around 20 cases. Countries now have an easy option not to comply with the WTO panel decisions by appealing into the void. Accordingly, they can continue with their defiance of WTO obligations. If no solution is found soon, the WTO’s rules-based order will start crumbling.

Other challenges

Additionally, there are four other compelling challenges that the WTO faces. First, no solution has been found to the public stockholding for food security purposes despite a clear mandate to do so in the 2015 Nairobi ministerial meeting. This is of paramount concern for countries like India that use Minimum Support Price (MSP)-backed mechanisms to procure foodgrains. The WTO rules allow countries to procure, stock and distribute food. However, if such procurement is done at an administered price such as the MSP that is higher than the external reference price, then the budgetary support provided shall be considered trade-distorting and is subject to an overall cap. With rising prices and the need to do higher procurement to support farmers and provide food to the poor at subsidised prices, India might breach the cap. Although countries have agreed that legal suits will not be brought if countries breach the cap (the so-called ‘peace clause’), it is imperative to find a permanent solution such as not counting MSP-provided budgetary support as trade-distorting.

Second, the WTO member countries continue to disagree on the need of waiving the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement for COVID-19 related medical products. It was exactly a year back when India and South Africa proposed a TRIPS waiver to overcome intellectual property (IP)-related obstacles in increasing accessibility of COVID-19 medical products, including vaccines. With large parts of the world still unvaccinated and with IP acting as an important barrier to vaccines and drugs, the WTO needs to rise up to the challenge and adopt a waiver in the upcoming ministerial meeting.

Third, the WTO is close to signing a deal on regulating irrational subsidies provided for fishing that has led to the overexploitation of marine resources by countries like China, which is the largest catcher and exporter of fish. However, this agreement should strike a balance between conserving ocean resources and the livelihood concerns of millions of small and marginal fishermen in countries like India. In this regard, an effective special and differential treatment provision that accords adequate policy space is what India and other developing countries should insist on. Fourth, the gridlock at the WTO has led to the emergence of mega plurilateral trade agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) — a trade treaty between 11 countries, which China is now keen to join. Another key trade treaty is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement between powerful Asian economies and countries down under. These mega plurilateral agreements not only fragment the global governance on international trade but also push the multilateral order to the margin, converting the WTO to what some call an “institutional zombie”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his recent U.S. visit, rightly pleaded for a rule-based global order. Institutional multilateralism would be the ideal antidote to mounting unilateralism and economic nationalism. The WTO is the finest example of such a rule-based multilateral order in trade. Notwithstanding its flaws, the WTO is the only forum where developing countries like India, not party to any mega plurilateral trade agreements, can push for evolving an inclusive global trading order that responds to the systemic imbalances of extant globalisation. What is at stake is the future of trade multilateralism and not just an institution, in which India has a huge interest.

Source: The Hindu