WTO: India resolute on food security

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By Arun S

Demands amendments in rules to prevent member countries from challenging current programmes

In the final stages of the ongoing summit-level negotiations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), India upped the ante to protect its food security right, even as the U.S. refused to agree to the demands of developing nations on the issue.

Initially, India was bargaining hard for improving an already available mechanism that safeguards government purchase of staple foodgrain from low-income and resource-poor farmers at subsidised prices for stockpiling, and then distributing them to the country’s economically weak.

Moves to ‘foolproof’

However, in the crunch phase of the talks, India sought to foolproof such a mechanism through an amendment of WTO rules on dispute settlement, to entirely prevent countries from legally challenging its food security programmes, according to sources privy to the negotiations.

The mechanism, called the ‘Peace Clause’, shields developing countries like India from being dragged by other countries to the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism for breaching the ceiling on product-specific domestic support (10% of the concerned crop’s value of production). The ‘Peace Clause’ is available to developing nations, including India, till a ‘permanent solution’ is found by the WTO members to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes.

Members had agreed during the Ministerial Conference (or MC — the WTO´s highest decision-making body) in 2013 to find a ‘permanent solution’ by the 2017 meet. The decision to expedite work on the ‘permanent solution’ was noted in the 2015 Nairobi MC decision. Thanks to ‘Peace Clause’, which is available in perpetuity (as reaffirmed in the Nairobi MC), even without a ‘permanent solution’, India would not have much trouble in implementing its food security programmes.

However, the Peace Clause’s onerous conditions (on notification etc.) make it tough for developing countries to use. Therefore, at Buenos Aires, India, along with other developing nations, wanted the ‘Peace Clause’ provisions to be improved upon and converted into a permanent solution — a demand the U.S. showed little interest in accepting.

“A major country stated categorically that they cannot agree to any permanent solution … at the 2017 MC,” India said in a statement. “This has the potential to irreversibly damage the credibility of the WTO as a Ministerial Decision of all countries present in Nairobi MC has not been honoured.”

Owing to the U.S. not respecting the Nairobi MC decision, India had decided not to take any chances by just agreeing to a Ministerial Text/Declaration on a ‘permanent solution’, the sources added.

(The writer is in Buenos Aires at the invitation of India’s Commerce Ministry)

Source: The Hindu

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