WTO meet stares at an impasse, as US reneges on promise over food procurement

Published On: 12, Dec 2017 | Source: financialexpress.com

The ongoing ministerial of the World Trade Organization (WTO) here could end on a deadlock, without any worthwhile outcome, as the US has gone back on its promise to pursue a permanent solution to the issue of food procurement that is central to the demands of developing countries, including India. The US has conveyed its decision to a group on agriculture, sources said. Its latest stance marks a departure from its own commitment in the Nairobi ministerial in 2015, where all WTO members had agreed to work towards finding a lasting solution to the issue of public stock holding by December 2017. While India has got a permanent peace clause for public stock holding (The clause protects food procurement programmes against penal action from WTO members in case subsidy ceilings are breached), this concession is basically restricted to the programmes running in 2013–during the Bali ministerial when the peace clause was first secured. This means no new procurement programme will be covered by the clause if the subsidy ceiling is breached there. Also, the clause comes with cumbersome notification obligations on farm subsidies doled out by relevant countries. India wants a better solution than the status quo that makes compliance easier and concession more substantial for developing nations. While India`s major procurement programmes are covered, many in the G33 grouping of developing nations–especially the African countries, and even China– could be affected unless a reasonable and lasting solution is worked out. The procurement programme in India ensures not just fair prices to farmers of key crops but also food security to millions of its poor.

Pitching for a permanent solution to the public stock holding programme, commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu told the plenary session of the WTO on Monday that “we cannot envisage any negotiated outcome at MC 11, which does not include a permanent solution“. He stressed the permanent solution for public stockholding for food security purposes is a matter of survival for eight hundred million hungry and undernourished people across the globe.

“At MC11 (current ministerial conference) we look forward to constructive engagement of the entire WTO membership for taking final decisions in areas where specific mandates were provided at Nairobi (last ministerial in December 2015),“ Prabhu had told the WTO members.

Separately, at an interaction session with media later on Monday, Prabhu said in India, cultivators and agricultural labourers together number over 250 million, more than the total population of many countries. The total number dependent on agriculture in one way or another, is even higher, close to 600 million. Nearly 98% of Indian farmers belong to the low-income or resource poor category and most of them are engaged in subsistence farming. Many of them have to deal with unfavourable agro-climatic conditions, further compounded by climate change, of which India is a victim. “Our circumstances make it imperative for us to balance trade liberalisation with the need to protect their livelihood,” Prabhu said.