India today defended its food security programme and allayed fears expressed by some member countries of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that the programme to offer cheap, subsidised food to the poor would undermine the working of the market mechanism.
Union minister of commerce and industry Anand Sharma, who met WTO director general Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo, in New Delhi today, underscored the need for addressing the concerns of food security, which have been outlined in a proposal presented by G-33 countries.
He said food security was the most fundamental of human needs and the lack of it would have profound ramifications like food price volatility and shortages as seen during recent years.
This was Azevedo's first visit to India after he assumed charge as the sixth director general of the WTO on 1 September 2013.
A solution to the G-33 proposal would be an important contribution by the WTO towards addressing the challenges of food security in developing countries, Sharma said.
He pointed out that public stockholding programmes are widely used to ensure food security in many developing countries where agriculture is largely rainfed.
Updating of the rules would greatly help these countries in carrying out such operations without defaulting on their commitments, he said.
Sharma urged Azevedo to persuade all parties to discuss the food security proposal constructively. He observed that developing countries are finding themselves hamstrung by existing rules in running their food stockholding and domestic food aid programmes.
The developed world too, he pointed out, had market price support programmes and was able to move away from market price support - though not fully even now - because of their deep pockets. This is not possible for developing countries.
It is important for developing countries to be able to guarantee some minimum returns to their poor farmers so that they are able to produce enough for themselves and for domestic food security.
Sharma expressed satisfaction at the intensification of discussion on the G33 proposal but also voiced his concern about the hardening of positions of some members who are now proposing stringent conditions to be satisfied before an interim mechanism can be availed of.
On trade facilitation, Sharma emphasised the importance of honouring the provisions of the mandate relating to special and differential treatment of developing countries, including LDCs and support and assistance to such countries.
Both Sharma and Azevedo agreed that a lopsided outcome of the Doha Round is not in anyone's interest. ''It is up to all of us to participate actively in the negotiations in order to arrive at that balance.''
Sharma also referred to the LDC issues and observed that these merit urgent and active attention before moving closer to fuller integration into international trade. ''Without this, any early harvest package would be incomplete and unacceptable,'' he said.
India, Sharma said, is firmly with the LDCs on their proposals. India has already implemented duty-free quota-free market access for LDCs.
A proposal to increase coverage of items under duty free list to around 97 per cent (from 85 per cent at present) of the total tariff lines and to further liberalise the `Rules of Origin' is under the active consideration of the government of India, he pointed out.
Sharma assured Azevedo of India's cooperation in striving to achieve a balanced outcome at Bali and an early resolution of remaining issues in the DDA post-Bali.