Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma landed in the Indonesian island of Bali on Sunday. He is leading a 30-member delegation for the 9th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to be held there from December 3-6.
Ahead of the Ministerial meeting, Mr. Sharma will “strongly” raise the issue of India’s subsistence farmers at a meeting of the G33 the host country has convened on Monday.
India is seeking from Bali safeguards against the limits for permissible subsidies under the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture (AOA), which its rising Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) are in danger of breaching.
India is not in a position to let Bali fail or remain inconclusive for that would mean the existing rules of the WTO would apply and the MSPs could fall foul of the disciplines.
The mandate to Mr. Sharma from New Delhi is for him to unequivocally convey that India’s concerns on food security are non-negotiable.
“He will underscore the fact the Bali Ministerial must have a fair and balanced outcome that addresses the concerns of the developing countries adequately, especially so on food security,” said informed sources. “India’s public stockholding program, for public distribution system cannot be compromised for minor gains of the developed countries.”
The brief to Mr. Sharma is that India must be persuasive and constructive and at the same time be firm on the core agenda of food security.
On Thursday, the Cabinet took up the matter of India’s position for the Ministerial.
India’s pitch at the WTO will be for a balanced outcome addressing India’s food security concerns and not just suit the interests of the strong exporting economies of the developed world. The developed countries are expected to oppose a lasting agreement on food security.
India has not managed to have a permanent safeguard for its MSPs included in the draft text for Bali. Even the proposed interim safeguard in the draft text, a Peace Clause that offers India breathing space on its MSP and food procurement programme until the 11th Ministerial Conference is inadequate. It can safeguard India’s MSPs Agreement on Agriculture but not against the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures.
More importantly, in the event of a permanent solution remaining elusive even after the 11th Ministerial, its expiry will again render India’s MSPs protection-less.
Apart from the issue of these subsidies, India has still not agreed to some of points of the developed countries’ proposal on Trade Facilitation in the draft text. The two sides are pitted in negotiations against each other on these two issues.
“India will demonstrate its constructive engagement, as it has unequivocally endorsed three out of the five issues under consideration of the WTO- namely, LDC issues, tariff rate quota and export competition,” said a government release.
Mr. Sharma plans to underscore India’s commitment for the Least Developed Countries (LDC) agenda.
On Thursday, the Cabinet took a unilateral decision for zero duty access covering 96.2 per cent of tariff lines.