Farm leaders to discuss WTO draft as India rejects farm proposals

10 Jun 2008


Mumbai: Farm leaders from across the country have converged in the capital to discuss the new draft proposals of the World Trade Organisation on agriculture and the stand India needs to take to protect livelihood of poor farmers.

The forum, which will deliberate on the WTO proposals calling for reduction in agricultural subsidies and industrial tariffs, would later submit its views to prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Over 25 farm leaders from across the country are expected to participate in the discussions.

India has rejected the revised negotiating draft on agriculture under the Doha Round of trade talks, stating that it does not address the livelihood concerns of poor farmers in developing countries.

The text sharply cuts the number of products which India and other developing countries can protect from unrestricted imports from the farm goods exporting countries like the US, Canada and Australia.

The farm leaders conclave will evaluate the implications of the new agricultural text on the livelihood of millions of farmers, farm workers and marginalised sections of the society.

The consultation forum, being organised by the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security and UNCTAD-India, would bring together farm leaders as well as representatives of fishermen, forest dwellers, adivasis, dalits and women. 

The United States is also under fire at the WTO for maintaining high import tariffs on textiles, food products, footwear, leather goods and automotive products, which are among India's top 10 merchandise exports to that country.

At the 9th review of the US trade policy regime, many members, including China, Norway, Thailand and the European Union, sharply criticised Washington for not adopting WTO-consistent policies in several areas.

During the biennial trade policy review, WTO members are allowed to air their trade problems they face in the country under review.

The WTO text, coming at a time when the world is faced with its worst ever food crisis, tries to ignore the real causes behind the unprecedented rise in global food prices and instead tries to push for more trade liberalisation.

In fact, a "multiplicity of regulatory requirements", sanitary and phytosanitary hurdles to Indian agricultural exports, trade barriers in the area of public procurement and controls on foreign investments, in the US have all combined to limit India's access to the US market, India pointed out.

''Although Washington repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to an open, transparent and rule-based multilateral trading system, its latest farm bill was 'indeed a matter of concern'," India's trade envoy Ujal Singh Bhatia said, adding, it raises questions as to whether the US can move meaningfully towards reforming trade in agriculture.

The diversion of a third of US corn producers for manufacturing ethanol with the help of subsidies caused a serious impact on global food prices, he pointed out.

He said higher charges such as 32 per cent duty for some clothing, 25 per cent for fabrics and 13.2 per cent for yarn dampened exports from India. Bhatia also accused the US of discouraging Indian IT companies from acquiring US firms because of undefined security provisions.

China also blasted Washington for its unhealthy trade policies despite being the biggest beneficiary from global trading.

Washington, is now accusing India of "working behind the scenes for Doha's demise", the US has said the WTO negotiations are not a "donor's conference" but require economic powers to shoulder responsibilities for reaching a global trade agreement.

Commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath is scheduled to meet US trade representative Susan Schwab and treasury secretary Henry Paulson tomorrow.

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