India will press for a permanent solution to the problem of the public supply of grains for food security programs and vigorously protect the interests of farmers and fishermen at the 12th World Trade Organization ministerial meeting to begin on Sunday.
The Indian delegation is led by Minister of Trade and Industry, Piyush Goyal.
The four-day 12th Ministerial Conference (MC) starts on June 12 in Geneva. The meeting takes place after a four-year hiatus and against the background of the war between Ukraine and Russia and the uncertain global economic situation.
The last time it was held in Argentina in 2017. MC is the supreme decision-making body of the 164-member World Trade Organization (WTO).
Key issues at the meeting include the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including patent exemption; agriculture and food security; WTO reforms; proposed agreement on fisheries subsidies; and extension of the moratorium on electronic transmission.
Key issues in the agriculture and food security category that could be addressed at the meeting include holding public stocks for food security purposes, trade-distorting domestic subsidies, market access, the Special Safeguard Mechanism, export restrictions and bans, and transparency.
New Delhi will pitch for finding a permanent solution to the issue of holding public shares (PSH) for its food security programs.
The PSH program is a policy tool whereby the government buys crops such as rice and wheat from farmers at a minimum support price (MSP), stores and distributes food grains to the poor.
MSP normally exceeds prevailing market rates and sells it at a low price to ensure food security for more than 800 million poor. However, the WTO’s Agriculture Agreement limits a government’s ability to purchase food from MSP.
Under global trading standards, a WTO member’s food subsidy law cannot exceed 10 percent of production value based on the 1986-88 reference price.
“That is why seeking a permanent solution is of the utmost importance for India,” said one expert.
India has been looking for a quick solution to the problem without linking to domestic support.
As part of a permanent solution, India has called for measures such as changes to the formula for calculating the cap on food subsidies and the inclusion of programs implemented after 2013 under the peace clause.
Under the peace clause, WTO members agreed not to challenge any violation of the prescribed ceiling by a developing country in the WTO’s dispute settlement forum.
This clause will remain in force until a permanent solution to the food stock problem is found.
India also wants the WTO to allow the export of food grains from public stocks for international food aid and humanitarian purposes, especially on a government-to-government basis, an official said.
Current WTO standards do not allow a member state to export food grains from public stockpiles as they are subsidized grains.
A senior government official also stated that while India would support efforts to improve the functioning of the WTO, key pillars such as special and differential treatment for less developed and developing countries, equal voice and dispute settlement mechanism should be maintained while reforms are implemented.
The WTO is a multilateral body that sets rules for worldwide exports and imports and adjudicates disputes between two or more countries on trade-related issues.
“We believe that the WTO is an important organization. Its multilateral nature should never be affected and that is why we support all efforts to improve its functioning … But the pillars of the WTO, which are a special and differentiated treatment for the less developed and developing countries, consensus-based approach that is the equal voice that every member has, transparency requirements, rule of law and dispute settlement mechanism. All these pillars of the WTO must be maintained when we try to implement WTO reforms,” said the officer .
The members also negotiate a fisheries grant agreement with the aim of eliminating subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and reducing subsidies for overfished stocks, overfishing and overcapacity with a view to promoting sustainable fishing.
It is estimated that 34 percent of global stocks are overfished, compared to 10 percent in 1974. These figures indicate that fish reserves are being exploited at a rate where the fish population cannot replenish itself.
Countries such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada and the US are pushing for subsidies to be disciplined. Countries like India and Indonesia want flexibility under special and differentiated treatment.
“India is determined to complete the negotiations as long as it allows for equitable growth and freedom in developing fishing capacities for the future without locking members into disadvantageous arrangements forever,” a source said.
India has emphasized that developing countries not engaged in long-range fishing should be exempted from the ban on overfishing subsidies for at least 25 years, as the sector is still in its infancy.
In addition, India will strongly oppose the continuation of the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce trade at the upcoming WTO ministerial meeting and insist on its ending as it will adversely affect developing countries.
Citing the importance of developing countries to maintain policy space for their digital advancement, regulate imports and generate revenue through customs duties, the official said India believes a rethink of the moratorium is crucial.
WTO members have agreed not to impose customs duties on electronic transmissions since 1998, and the moratorium has been periodically extended at successive ministerial conferences (MC).
India and South Africa have also proposed to temporarily waive certain provisions of a WTO intellectual property agreement to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. They have stated that the move would aid rapid vaccination and a revival of the global economy.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)