More reports on: World Trade Organisation

WTO talks: India links trade facilitation to resolution of food security

04 July 2014

The government on Thursday said it considered ensuring food security for the masses as of prime importance, than facilitating trade for the developed countries.

World Trade Organisation (WTO)It added that its stance at the ongoing talks at the World Trade Organisation will be guided by national interests.

The new government said it will not support the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) being pushed by developed nations, including the US, the EU and Australia, till they resolved the issue of India's food subsidy programme at the WTO.

''We are under no legal obligation to ratify the protocol for TFA by the July 31 deadline. We are not going to do it till our concerns are addressed,'' a commerce ministry official said, in what looked like a marked change in the country's perceptions of the international trade forum under the new regime.

The TFA that was pushed by the farm block of US, EU and Australia at the Bali Ministerial last December binds WTO members to improve border infrastructure for smoother movement of goods.

The Congress-led UPA regime was amenable to signing the TFA under a concessional deal that allowed India and other developing countries to continue food security programmes for a few more years.

However, India's commitment to support FTA was part of a package deal that also directed members to find a permanent solution to India's problem of funding its food security programme without breaching subsidy caps and attracting penalties.

''We are deeply concerned that the ministerial decision on public stockholding for food security purposes is getting sidelined. Till there is more clarity on this issue and members' concerns are satisfactorily addressed, it will not be prudent to finalise the Protocol of Amendment (for Trade Facilitation),'' India's representative at the WTO said in Geneva on Wednesday.

While members are ready to sign the TFA protocol this month-end, there has been no progress on finding a permanent solution to India's problem of keeping its minimum support price (MSP) programme from being challenged at the WTO.

Meanwhile, the next meeting of the Committee on Agriculture has been pushed back to November, indicating the lack of urgency among members to address concerns of India and other developing countries on food security.

While pushing the FTA, member countries of the farm block had agreed in Bali to give India ''interim relief'' against disputes on breaching subsidy levels till a permanent solution was found. This, however, came with several obligations that would make it very difficult for India to implement the food security programme.

To get the waiver, not only will India be required to admit that it had breached subsidy caps and furnish data on farm production, food consumption and subsidies, the relief would be null and void if developed countries felt the subsidies were distorting global prices.


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