Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma will make a suo motu statement in Parliament on what India has agreed to at the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Bali.
It will counter Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley’s statement on Saturday that “the powers to decide what is right for farmers and poor people of the country would no longer reside in the Indian Parliament… It would be dictated by what the rest of the world perceives to be right.”
On Sunday, Mr. Sharma told The Hindu: “A wrong impression has been sought to be created that Indian negotiators have ceded ground on the food security programme and opened it to scrutiny or diktats by other nations. The Indian food security programme is part of our sovereign decision-making space and was not even under discussion at Bali.”
The existing rules construe Minimum Support Prices for procurement of foodgrains as trade-distorting subsidies. MSPs beyond 10 per cent of the total value of the staple food procured could attract penalties. “India spearheaded the G33 proposal to correct this as subsidy calculations cannot be pegged on outdated external reference prices, or countries which have public stockholding would have been exposed to penal actions, and India, too, would not have been in a position to protect the interests of its subsistence farmers as the likely enhanced procurement of foodgrains due to the food security law could have led to a breach of the de minimis and penal action under the existing rules,” Mr. Sharma said. “We have protected rather than exposing them by ensuring that the interim mechanism cannot be temporary.”
Mr. Jaitley, who was Commerce Minister earlier, was aware that the rules of agricultural trade were prescribed in the Agreement on Agriculture, which was inherently flawed in respect of public stockholding for food security purposes, Mr. Sharma said. “It needed correction; however, the Bali meet was not focused on the entire agriculture agenda but only a small part.”
Mr. Jaitley’s statement alleges that the agreement conferred unbridled powers on other WTO members to scrutinise, question and force India to right-size its food security programme.
Mr. Sharma also rejected the charge that the Bali agreement required additional information disclosures about public procurement. “A country in which there is the Right To Information and Parliament is apprised of public procurement, all information is in the public domain any way.”
“The Leader of the Opposition should have waited for the government’s statement in Parliament before distorting the decisions taken in Bali for narrow partisan politics and to mislead public opinion,” Mr. Sharma said. What was agreed to at Bali was consistent with the stand India had proposed to take before the start of the meeting, and of which the government had informed Mr Jaitley through a letter. “The Leader of the Opposition did not acknowledge the letter, though we had even offered to have him briefed by the negotiators,” Mr. Sharma said. “We have honoured that same position.”
Mr. Sharma said Mr. Jaitley ought to be reminded that the existing WTO rules, from which Bali fully safe-guarded India’s minimum support prices until permanent protection was available to them, had prevailed even when he was Commerce Minister. “The NDA government neither attempted to have them corrected nor raised them at WTO negotiations.”