Commerce Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, rejected charges by the opposition parties that the government was unable to protect India’s interests at the recently concluded Nairobi Ministerial Conference of the WTO.
“India negotiated hard to ensure that the WTO continues to place the interests of developing countries and LDCs at the centre of its agenda,” according to a statement tabled by Ms. Sitharaman, who represented India at the Ministerial Conference, the WTO’s highest decision making body.
She said the outcomes of the Conference, referred to as the ‘Nairobi Package,’ contains Ministerial Decisions on public stockholding for food security purposes, a Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) for developing countries, a commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports particularly from the developed countries. SSM is a tool that will allow developing countries to temporarily hike duties to counter import surges and price falls of farm items.
As the future of the ongoing Doha Round negotiations of the WTO appeared in doubt, India sought and succeeded in obtaining a re-affirmative Ministerial Decision on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes honouring both the Bali Ministerial and General Council Decisions, the Minister said. The decision commits members to engage constructively in finding a permanent solution to this issue, she added.
To ensure that the issue of SSM remains on the agenda of future discussion in the WTO, India negotiated a Ministerial Decision, which recognises that developing countries will have the right to have recourse to an SSM as envisaged in the mandate, Ms. Sitharaman said.
Members will continue to negotiate the mechanism in dedicated sessions of the Committee on Agriculture.The WTO General Council has been mandated to regularly review progress of these negotiations.
All countries agreed to the elimination of agricultural export subsidies subject to the preservation of Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) for developing countries such as a longer phase-out period for transportation and marketing export subsidies for exporting agricultural products.
Developed countries have committed to removing export subsidies immediately, except for a few agricultural products, and developing countries will do so by 2018, she said. Developing countries, including India, will keep the flexibility to cover marketing and transport subsidies for agriculture exports until the end of 2023, she added.
The Ministerial Decision contains disciplines to ensure that other export policies are not used as a disguised form of subsidies.
These disciplines include terms to limit the benefits of financing support to agriculture exporters, rules on state enterprises engaging in agriculture trade, and disciplines to ensure that food aid does not negatively affect domestic production.
Developing countries, such as India, are given longer time to implement these rules, she said.
On the issue of the future of the 14-year-old Doha Round negotiations, India took the stand that the Development Agenda of the Round (to boost the trade prospects of developing and poor nations) must continue after the Nairobi Conference and no new issues must be introduced into the WTO agenda until the Development Agenda has been completed.
Though India's position had the support of many countries from the developing and the poor world, a few developed countries, including the U.S., opposed the continuation of the Doha Round, Ms. Sitharaman said.
The Nairobi Ministerial Declaration acknowledges that members “have different views” on how to address the future of the Doha Round negotiations but noted the “strong commitment of all Members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues,” she said.
The Ministerial Declaration records that WTO work would maintain development at its centre, she said, adding that it also reaffirms that provisions for S&DT would remain integral.
S&DT, among other things, accords longer time periods for implementing WTO agreements and commitments in addition to provisions safeguarding their trade interests.