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Last Updated : Dec 12, 2017 08:38 AM IST | Source: PTI

India seeks permanent solution to food stockpile issue at WTO

In his 3-minute address at the plenary session of the 11th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) here, Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu urged the member countries to reaffirm their commitment to a rule- based multilateral trading system as it would benefit the entire world.

India called on WTO members to find a permanent solution to the public food stockpile issue, saying it concerns survival of 800 million hungry people across the globe.

It also asked them to refrain from raising new issues, especially those which are not linked to trade.

In his 3-minute address at the plenary session of the 11th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) here, Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu urged the member countries to reaffirm their commitment to a rule- based multilateral trading system as it would benefit the entire world.

"At MC (Ministerial Conference) 11, we look forward to constructive engagement of the entire WTO membership for taking final decisions in areas where specific mandates were provided at Nairobi... One such issue is the permanent solution for public stockholding for food security purposes. This is a matter of survival for 800 million hungry and undernourished people in the world," he said.

A successful resolution of the food security issue would "fulfil our collective commitment to the global community", he said, adding that "we cannot envisage any negotiated outcome at MC 11, which does not include a permanent solution".

Under the global trade norms, a WTO member country's food subsidy bill should not breach the limit of 10 per cent of the value of production based on the reference price of 1986-88.

Apprehending that the full implementation of food security programme may result in breach of the WTO cap, India has been seeking amendments to the formula for calculating the food subsidy cap.

As an interim measure, the WTO members at the Bali ministerial meeting in December 2013 had agreed to put in place a mechanism popularly called the Peace Clause and committed to negotiating an agreement for permanent solution at the 11th ministerial meeting, which is under way in Buenos Aires.

Under the Peace Clause, WTO members agreed to refrain from challenging any breach in prescribed ceiling by a developing nation at the dispute settlement forum of the WTO. This clause will be there till a permanent solution is found to the food stockpiling issue.

Prabhu further said that while India is proud of its GDP growth rates of recent years, which are the highest among developing economies propelled by innovative economic policies of the government, "we cannot ignore (that) India is home to more than 600 million poor people".

Therefore "we are legitimate demandeurs" for special and differential treatment for developing countries, he said, adding that it is also noteworthy that "many developed countries have benefited from long periods of derogation from GATT rules in the area of agriculture and textiles".

Referring to the attempts being made by some developed nations to place new issues on the negotiating agenda of the WTO, Prabhu held that agreeing to these would be "extremely divisive. Many of these issues are neither trade-related nor have these been discussed in detail".

On the specific issue of e-commerce, he said the gains from the sector must not be confused with gains from negotiating binding rules in this area. "It is for this reason that we support continuation of the 1998 Work Programme with its non-negotiating mandate," he added.

Shifting the priority from DDA (Doha Development Agenda) issues to non-trade issues like Investment Facilitation and MSMEs, for which there is no mandate, is difficult to accept, Prabhu said, outlining India's priorities.

"...let me say that at a time when the global trade environment is extremely fragile, let this Ministerial Conference be an occasion for concluding the unfinished agenda of the Doha Work Programme, and collectively strive to preserve and revitalise the WTO," he stressed.

Referring to the issue of domestic support for agriculture, he said the Agreement on Agriculture provides considerable flexibility to the developed members to provide huge subsidies and further to concentrate these subsidies on a few products.

This asymmetry, he added, was needed to be addressed as a first step in agricultural reform through a post-MC11 work programme without shifting the burden of reduction of agricultural subsidies to developing countries.

As for the services sector, Prabhu said India has engaged constructively with the proponents of the domestic regulation disciplines.

"However, I am apprehensive that the present approach in the negotiations will not lead to any fruitful outcomes at MC11. A work programme for Services... and some elements of India's proposal on Trade Facilitation in Services, including Mode 4, can take the Services agenda forward," he added.

On the fisheries issue, he said an outcome that preserves the policy space for developing countries to support millions who depend on traditional fishing activity as the sole source of livelihood could be worked out at the next ministerial conference.

"India recognises that some progress has been made in the area of fisheries subsidies. We can agree to future work on this issue towards an outcome at MC 12," the minister said.

Stressing that the outcome of the expansion of global trade must be development, Prabhu urged the WTO membership to re-endorse the centrality of development in the trade negotiations without creating new sub-categories of countries.

He also expressed concern over inordinate delay in appointment of new members to the WTO's Appellate Body, saying "we need to collectively and expeditiously resolve this impasse".

The appointment of members to the Appellate Body is being delayed because of the tough attitude adopted by the US administration in filling the vacancies.
First Published on Dec 12, 2017 08:20 am
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