India on Tuesday expressed disappointment over the US refusal to honour its earlier commitment at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to work out a permanent solution to the issue of public procurement for food security by December 2017, citing it as a setback to the credibility of the multilateral trade body. Earlier in the day, commerce minister Suresh Prabhu joined US trade representative Robert Lighthizer in a meeting called by the chair of the WTO’s current ministerial conference, Susana Malcorra. While the exact deliberations are still unclear, no change in the US stance was visible. Although the American move doesn’t affect India’s key procurement programmes, thanks to protection granted under the permanent peace clause, it’s a setback to many developing countries, including China and the African nations, that have limited space to boost their public stock-holding exercise. The peace clause was secured in the Bali ministerial in 2013 (its permanent status was endorsed after that) and members, including the US, had committed at the Nairobi ministerial in 2015 to bring in a lasting solution by December 2017.
Without naming the US, the government said in a statement: “India is surprised and deeply disappointed that despite an overwhelming majority of members reiterating it, a major member country has reneged on a commitment made two years ago to deliver a solution of critical importance for addressing hunger in some of the poorest countries of the world.” “This has the potential to irreversibly damage the credibility of the WTO as a ministerial decision of all countries present in Nairobi has not been honoured,” it added.
Still, India will continue to participate in efforts to draft a credible ministerial declaration and make it clear that any such declaration must reaffirm principles of the multilateral trading system, the completion of the Doha Development Agenda, the centrality of development and the availability of special and differential treatment and other concerns of developing countries, according to the statement.
More than 100 WTO members endorsed India’s position on all agriculture issues, including its proposal to set the direction of agriculture reforms by removing the most trade-distorting form of subsidies used mainly by the rich developed countries, the statement said. The 53-member African Group and many others also backed India in opposing rules on e-commerce and including new issues such as investment facilitation and MSMEs into the WTO’s agenda.
(The reporter is in Buenos Aires at the invitation of the Indian commerce ministry to cover the WTO ministerial)