India Hopes to Convince WTO on Food Security Issue

After the recent failure of WTO talks, India today hoped that by September it will convince the multi-lateral trading body about the need for developing nations to give subsidies on foodstocks so that it is relieved of the "draconian sword".

Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitaraman told Rajya Sabha that the tough position adopted by India and the recent talks in Geneva had been supported by many least developed countries (LDCs) and rejected the Opposition charge that the country stood isolated on the issue.

She underlined that India will not compromise on its sovereign duty to protect the interest of its farmers as well as consumers.

"On permanent solutions, we are trying to convince WTO. We are still making efforts. We hope to succeed by September," Sitaraman said while clarifying on the statement made in the Upper House.

Stating that the "draconian sword" is hanging on India and other countries on setting permanent solution by end of 2017, she said there was no need to wait till 2017 and at least the process can begin.

No progress has been made on finding permanent solution since post-Bali summit. India was getting "worried" that none of the western countries would come to talk about permanent solution on public stock holding if it had ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), she said.

Justifying India's stand, the minister said if India had ratified TFA, which it is committed for, there would have been not a single reason for western developed countries to discuss about permanent solutions.

The country was "wary" as developed countries are looking at plurilateral agreement and moving away from the central philosophy of WTO, which is multilateral, she said. 

"Therefore, we want to ensure if we do not sign TFA, they (western countries) will understand the issue of public stockholding has to be addressed," Sitaraman said.

Noting that the WTO's formula of calculating subsidies on foodstocks is "wrong", she said it has been raised constantly with the multilaternal organisation saying that the subsidy should be calculated on foodgrains procured not on total foodgrains production.

The Minister said that keeping 1986-88 as the base year for calculating quantum of subsidy is a gross injustice and India has been pushing for adopting a dynamic three-year average.

Asserting that an impression that India was isolated on this issue is not correct, she said other countries like Indonesia, China and Kenya are also procuring foodgrains for inclusive development.

Countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Zambia and Ghana among others are offering minimum support price (MSP).

Asked why food security, which was never part of WTO, was linked with public stockholding, Sitaraman said, "Without holding foodgrains stocks, how are you going to talk about food security?"

To a query whether WTO should decide MSP, she said, "Certainly not. We are fighting India retains its sovereign right...We are not going to allow this. It is entirely Indian issue."

Asked if it was indirect way to sabotage food security and that the country was humiliated, she said, "No. We assure (you) certainly we will not let that go."

"India is not humiliated...I think India stood by principle and reinforced what happened in Bali and that agreement is fully honoured. There is no humiliation."

On non-price, non-tariff barriers, she said these issues need to addressed and government is making efforts to ensure that reduction and disciplining of farm subsidies are on par with the Doha development round.

"We ensure that other trade constraints are also going to be equally addressed. This is not forgotten," she added.

Seeking clarifications, Deputy Leader of Congress Anand Sharma expressed concerns over linking food security issue with Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

Food security issue was never part of the WTO agenda but it was about public stockholding. It is unfortunate that a perception has been created that India retracted on FTA, which was in the interest of the country, the former Commerce Minister said.

Sharma asked whether the impasse in WTO would create problem for least developed countries (LCDs), which have expressed concern over the India's confrontationist stand.

He also sought to know as to why the government did not consult the Opposition on the issue.

Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said there is no objection if the government refused to ratify TFA until a permanent solution is found on food security issues.

He asked whether the government was committed to protect the poor within the country at a time when FDI was being allowed in various sectors.

He wanted to know if India will take up the issue of subsidies given by rich countries on non-price issue in the WTO meeting and asked if food security can be extended to all people in the country.

Basawaraj Patil (BJP) asked whether India's current stand would affect the interest of farmers and food security.

Noting that all parties should have been taken on board on the WTO issue, Derek O'Brien (AITC) asked why the government, which was good at using communication tools, did not take parties into confidence.

A Navnethakrishnan (AIADMK) asked why 10 per cent subsidy is being objected by rich countries and what was India's stand on this issue.

Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) sought to know the possible impact of the agreement had India signed it.

Bhupinder Singh (BJD), K P Ramalingam (DMK) and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa (SAD) emphasised on the need to protect the interests of farmers.

D Raja (CPI) sought a clarification about an official circular related to declaration of bonus by state government above Minimum Support Price (MSP).

Narendra Kumar Kashyap (BSP) expressed concern over Chinese goods dominating Indian markets.

Bhupender Yadav (BJP), E M Sudarsana Natchiappan (Cong), Rangasayee Ramakrishna (BJP) and Ananda Bhaskar Rapolu (Cong) also spoke.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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