Despite hectic discussions, WTO MC13 ends with no deals on fisheries, agriculture

The WTO failed to reach a common ground for resolving the contentious food security issue

Updated - March 02, 2024 08:57 am IST

Published - March 02, 2024 05:00 am IST - Abu Dhabi

Delegates attend the 13th WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. File

Delegates attend the 13th WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

The talks at the WTO's ministerial conference ended with no decision on key issues such as finding a permanent solution to public food stockpile and on curbing fisheries subsidies that lead to over-capacity and over-fishing, sources said. However, the members agreed to further extend the moratorium on imposing import duties on e-commerce trade for two more years, they said.

Despite the four days of hectic parleys getting extended for a day, the 166-member World Trade Organisation (WTO) was not able to reach a common ground for resolving the food security issue, a demand raised prominently by India, and curbing subsidies that leads to overfishing and over capacity.

Also read: WTO MC13 | What’s on the agenda for India?

They added that India successfully pushed the food security issue and the country did not yield any ground on protecting the interest of poor farmers and fishermen and also on other issues and kept its defensive interests in various fields intact.

The Indian team led by Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, in cooperation with the G-33 grouping, had pitched hard for a permanent solution to the food security issue as it was crucial for the livelihood of 800 million people across the globe.

The 13th ministerial conference (MC), which was supposed to end on February 29, got extended by a day due to the logjam.

Agriculture has countries divided

The Cairns group, comprising countries like Australia and Brazil, has claimed that public stockholding is market-distorting and that there should be no export restrictions. Food-importing countries like Japan and Singapore are pushing for predictability in farm policies.

On the other hand, the US wants market access for its agri commodities, and the EU wants a cut in subsidies.

New Delhi was pressing for a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding (PSH) of grains for food security programmes and has asked developed countries engaged in distant water fishing to stop providing any kind of subsidies for 25 years.

"The developed nations have major differences among themselves on issues related to agriculture," they added.

PSH programme is a policy tool under which the Government procures crops like rice and wheat from farmers at a minimum support price (MSP), stores and distributes foodgrains to the poor.

As part of a permanent solution, India has asked for measures like amendments in the formula to calculate the food subsidy cap. Developing nations including India were asking for updating the external reference prices used to calculate market price support in public stockholding, which are currently based on 1986-88 reference prices.

Other issues

Experts said that there should not be any comparison between the fishermen of rich nations and developing countries. In one of the developed countries, the fisheries subsidies are over $80,000 per fisherman, while in India it is about $38 per fisherman.

India and South Africa also blocked a proposal led by China on investment facilitation stating that the agenda is out of the WTO mandate. India has also blocked a proposal from the European Union on industrial policy.

Positive outcomes

The ministerial conference managed to get at least five outcomes such as new disciplines on domestic regulation for services, formal joining of Comoros and Timor-Leste as members of the WTO, and least developing countries continuing to get the benefits of LDC even three years after graduation.

MC is the highest decision-making body of the 166-member Geneva-based multilateral body. As many as 22 more nations have shown interest in joining the organisation.

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