India, at the ongoing WTO’s Nairobi meet for a deal to liberalise global trade, has called for a balanced outcome in negotiations on agriculture including an agreement on Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM).
SSM is a trade remedy that will allow developing countries to temporarily hike duties to address import surges and price dips due to heavily subsidised imports of agricultural products from developed countries. SSM is meant to protect the interests of resource-poor and subsistence farmers in the developing nations.
In a statement, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who had earlier called for a drastic reduction of farm subsidies in the rich countries, opposed efforts by the developed world to cherry pick issues from within the ‘Export Competition’ pillar that concerns farm export subsidies reforms (reduction / elimination of such subsidies).
India has also opposed efforts by the rich countries to link a deal on SSM to that on ‘export competition,’ as it is sticking to its position that SSM is not up for bargain during the negotiations.
‘SSM demand reasonable’
Ms. Sitharaman said an instrument similar to SSM was already available to a select few countries (especially the developed countries) for over two decades. Therefore, the demand for SSM was reasonable and pragmatic, she said. She said there were attempts to dilute the ‘Export Competition’ provisions to suit a few members.
“At this late hour, new definitions and language are being proposed. It is not possible to react to these new concepts without extensive domestic consultations,” she said.
Ms. Sitharaman expressed concern over new concepts on ‘export competition’ being discussed by a limited group of members, adding “this severely impacts the transparency of the process.”
Sources said she met the WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo and sought similar discussions to take forward the proposal on SSM.
Ms. Sitharaman said a simplified proposal on SSM had already been submitted and asked the WTO Chair on Agriculture negotiations to speedily work on this.
“We expect WTO members to engage constructively on the issue [of SSM] so that we can arrive at an outcome in Nairobi,” the Minister said in her statement.
Rebuffs rich countries’ claims
India has already rejected claims by rich countries that there is a broad consensus for a deal during the WTO’s Nairobi meet on getting rid of farm export subsidies. Brazil and the European Union were among those WTO members who have pitched for a deal on ‘export competition’ at the ongoing Nairobi Ministerial Conference.
Ms. Sitharaman pointed out that a deal only on ‘Export Competition’ -- but not on SSM -- at the Nairobi meet will disturb the balance in WTO’s agricultural negotiations.
India seeks additional flexibility
Developing and poor countries want rich countries to drastically reduce their trade distorting farm subsidies, while simultaneously seeking adequate flexibility in reducing their own farm export subsidies. Rich countries, on the other hand, have sought greater commitments from emerging markets such as India on undertaking greater commitments on farm export subsidies.
India had sought additional flexibility for developing countries so that they can provide such more subsidies on some products, while reducing subsidies on other products.