Economy

No WTO deal without food security: India

Suresh Prabhu

Suresh Prabhu  

‘Issue of public stockholding crucial’

India has said it cannot envisage any negotiated outcome, at the ongoing meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s apex decision-making body, which does not include successful resolution of the food security right issue.

In his address at the Plenary Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC) here on Monday, India’s commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu said, “… the permanent solution for public stockholding for food security purposes… is a matter of survival for 800 million hungry and undernourished people in the world.”

He added, “A successful resolution of this issue would fulfil our collective commitment to the global community… we cannot envisage any negotiated outcome at the (Buenos Aires) MC, which does not include a permanent solution.” India has already made it clear that it will not accept a 'permanent solution' with onerous conditions that in turn make it very difficult for the (Indian) government or other developing countries to meet the food security needs of their people.

Mr. Prabhu also said “India calls upon the WTO membership to re-endorse the centrality of development (the agenda to improve the trading prospects of developing nations) in WTO negotiations without creating new sub-categories of countries.”

He said, “We are increasingly seeing that the discourse on development at the WTO is sought to be deflected by specious arguments based on aggregate GDP figures. While in India we are proud of our GDP and growth rates of recent years,... we cannot ignore that India is home to more than 600 million poor people.” The minister added that, therefore, “we (India) are legitimate demandeurs for special and differential treatment for developing countries.” 

This is in the context of attempts by certain rich countries to wreck the broad unity among developing nations on a host of issues, by suggesting that countries such as India and China are currently emerging economies and reasonably strong in trade -- unlike others in the developing world – and, therefore, such powerful nations that are still in the 'developing' category do not deserve to gain from the favourable treatment meant only for developing nations in WTO Agreements.  

Mr. Prabhu urged the entire WTO Membership to unequivocally reaffirm the importance of a rules-based multilateral trading system. He expressed “India's concern at the inordinate delay in appointment of new members to the (WTO’s) Appellate Body,” and said, “We need to collectively and expeditiously resolve this impasse.” This statement comes in the backdrop of criticism against the US for blocking the re-appointment of judges to the WTO’s Appellate Body — a move that many say would undermine the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Mechanism, which is recognised as a fundamental pillar of the organisation due to it being a ‘fair, effective and efficient mechanism to solve trade problems.’

‘No’ to ‘new issues’

In addition, Mr. Prabhu opposed the endeavour of certain countries to include ‘new issues’ — such as e-commerce, investment facilitation and matters relating to small firms — in the ongoing Doha Round of negotiations (which started in 2001 with a 'development agenda'), without first resolving outstanding issues including those relating to food security.

The Minister also pushed India’s proposal for a Trade Facilitation in Services (TFS) Agreement, which, among other things, aims to liberalise rules on movement of professionals and skilled workers across borders for temporary work/projects. “A work programme for Services including Domestic Regulation and some elements of India's TFS proposal, including Mode 4 (temporary movement of natural persons including professionals), can take the Services agenda forward,” he said.

Asymmetry in farm subsidy norms

On agricultural domestic support, Mr. Prabhu said the WTO Agreement on Agriculture provides considerable flexibility to the developed members to provide huge subsidies and further, to concentrate these subsidies on a few products. “This asymmetry needs to be addressed as a first step in agricultural reform through a post-Buenos Aires work programme without, however, shifting the burden of reduction of agricultural subsidies to developing countries.”

Regarding limiting harmful fisheries subsidies, the minister said, “We can agree to future work on this issue towards an outcome at the Ministerial Conference in 2019 that preserves the policy space for developing countries to support millions who depend on traditional fishing activity as the sole source of livelihood.” Lastly, he said, “at a time when the global trade environment is extremely fragile, let this Ministerial Conference be an occasion for concluding the unfinished agenda of the Doha Work Programme, and collectively strive to preserve and revitalize the WTO.”

(Arun S. was in Buenos Aires at the invitation of the Indian Commerce Ministry)

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 7:55:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/no-wto-deal-without-food-security-india/article21421915.ece

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