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India’s ban on Chinese apps complicates WTO regulations

“India’s measure selectively and discriminatorily aims at certain Chinese apps on ambiguous and far-fetched grounds, runs against fair and transparent procedure requirements, abuses national security exceptions and (is suspected of) violating WTO rules,” Ji Rong, spokesman at the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, said in a statement.
However, even if China approaches the WTO, of India which is a founder member and which China joined only in 2011, it is unlikely to get relief in this matter. Here are three big reasons why WTO is likely to back India’s decision:

1.There is no bilateral agreement

 between India and China with regard to smartphone apps there is no bilateral agreement. Chinese companies launched their apps in India not because the two countries signed an agreement but because India is an otherwise free market with access to all.

These apps promoted themselves making heavy investments in advertisements. Funds flowed from China and content building a better image of China was promoted through these apps.

These apps helped remove distrust for Chinese products from the minds of Indian youth. A parallel growth in the share of Chinese products was seen in Indian market. All this happened without any formal agreement. India cannot be accused the WTO of violating any mutually agreed law.

  1. Rules of WTO favor Indian position.

 According to WHO laws, a country is allowed to act against companies or products for being a threat to its sovereignty and national security interest. This is exactly what the government has said while invoking the IT Act against these apps.

In fact, India can build a counter case against China in the WTO for indulging in illegal and unfair trade practice. China has long routed its goods through a third country — for example, Singapore or Hong Kong  with whom India has had preferential trade agreements.

China does this to avoid paying higher duties while dumping its products in India to be sold at lower prices than its competition. This trade malpractice has harmed the interests of Indian industries.

  1. The Great Chinese Firewall.

 China has long blocked companies from entering its market on various pretexts. It has blocked tech giants and even news websites.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and similar apps which are part of the everyday lives of millions of people across the globe are not known in China. By blocking these companies, China floated and helped prosper its own versions of these websites and apps.

Funded heavily by the Chinese government through disguised arms, Chinese social media apps started invading foreign markets. India, being the largest market for Chinese companies, turned out to be an easily exploited profit-producing machine.

With regard to India, China has imposed restrictions on long-term visa and non-tariff barriers on investments. Even some of the newspapers are blocked in China. Only yesterday, the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) urged the government to look into the issue and sought an equitable response by blocking access to Chinese media in India.

Clearly, the Chinese threat to take the matter to the WTO is hollow. It has more noise than nuances.

By Sanjida Jannat

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