Nairobi deadlocked over draft deal on agriculture

An Indian farmer shouts slogans, during a protest by farmers, in Nairobi on Thursday against the WTO agenda to force through all aspects of the 'Bali Package' aimed at lowering global trade barriers.  

It is the penultimate day of the Nairobi meet of the WTO, but there is still no deal in sight to liberalise global trade. On Thursday, developing countries including India opposed a draft declaration on agriculture, saying it favoured the rich countries.

The day saw the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman asking WTO members to move beyond what he called the cynical repetition of positions designed to produce deadlock and instead discuss what is doable for a successful outcome.

Meanwhile, India and other developing countries rejected the language in another draft text on the final Nairobi Ministerial Declaration. Expressing “severe reservations” about the draft declaration on agriculture, India and the developing world have pointed out that it has not taken on board their demands — that they be given an effective tool to protect poor farmers' interests without any conditionality, and that the text mention a short deadline (latest by December 2017) for arriving at a permanent solution for the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes.

Sources said the G-33 (a coalition of nations, including India and China) will shortly issue a different draft declaration on agriculture.

As per the agriculture draft, the developing nations’ demand for an SSM (Special Safeguard Mechanism) would be accepted on the condition that these nations grant greater market access to farm goods through reduced tariffs. The SSM will allow developing countries to temporarily hike duties to counter import surges and price falls of farm products.

India has said that an instrument similar to SSM is already available to a select few countries (mostly the developed countries) for over two decades, and therefore, the demand for SSM was reasonable and pragmatic.

India has sought an SSM without it being conditional on market access, as the tool was to counter hugely subsidised farm goods from rich countries. India also wanted the rich nations to drastically reduce their 'trade distorting' farm subsidies.

According to the draft text, work on a SSM shall be pursued taking account of proposals by the WTO Member countries and in the “broader context of agricultural market access.” The text also says that the WTO's General Council (the highest decision making body at the global trade body's headquarters in Geneva) shall regularly review progress on SSM negotiations.

Food security

Regarding a permanent solution for the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes, the draft declaration has not mentioned a short deadline (latest by December 2017) as demanded by the developing countries including India.

The draft has taken note that the 'peace clause' -- as agreed during the 2013 Bali Ministerial Declaration and later made clear by the WTO General Council decision in November 2014 -- shall remain in force until a permanent solution in this regard is agreed and adopted. Thanks to the indefinite peace clause, the WTO member countries cannot challenge the agriculture subsidies given by nations saying they violate the provisions of the WTO norms.

However, instead of giving any deadline to arrive at a permanent solution, the text only mentions that the negotiations on the issue shall continue to be pursued as a priority in the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session, in dedicated sessions and in an accelerated time-frame.

At a glance

>> Developing & poor world oppose introduction of new issues

>> Wants final Ministerial Declaration to reaffirm Doha Round's development mandate

>> Developed world wants deal on farm export subsidy elimination, but developing countries say no convergence on it

>> India seeks an SSM sans riders and a short deadline, latest by Dec ’17, for permanent solution on food security issue

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 9:08:08 PM |

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