India won't trade food security, farmers' interest: Minister
India is not opposed to any agreement to simplify the rules of global commerce but cannot wait endlessly for a permanent solution on subsidies, so crucial for food security and welfare of its farmers, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Tuesday.
"India is not standing in way of implementation of trade facilitation but seeking equal level of commitment and progress in working on the issue of public stockholding," she told parliament, referring to India's veto last week of the trade facilitation pact.
"India must have freedom to use its food reserves to feed the poor without any threat of violating any international obligation," the minister said, adding issues of development and food security are critical and cannot be sacrificed to mercantile considerations.
"A permanent solution on food security is a must for us. We cannot wait endlessly in a state of uncertainty, while the WTO (World Trade Organization) engages in an academic debate on subject of food security," she added.
"But I am confident India will be able to persuade the WTO membership to appreciate our sensitivities and that of the other developing countries and see their way to take this issue forward in a positive spirit."
At a meeting of trade diplomats of 160 member countries of the WTO in Geneva last week, India decided to veto an accord on trade facilitation, saying a parallel solution must be found on the permissible subsidy on procurement of food for public distribution.
The WTO accord calls for a freeze on the extent to which governments can buy farm produce at non-market rates.
Towards this, the 9th Ministerial Conference in Bali in December 2013 had called for a permanent solution by the 11th such conference due in 2017.
It was also agreed that till 2017, no country can move the dispute settlement body of the WTO against another member if its government was found to be breaching the level of subsidy freeze that was permitted - this was officially termed as the peace clause.
India's concern has been: What if no permanent solution is found by 2017?
In such an event, the peace clause will expire and member countries would be free to drag India to the WTO - and the outcome would not have been in New Delhi's favour.
Making a statement on India's position at the trade talks in Geneva, Sitharaman hoped the WTO members will look at this issue impartially and said: "India is committed to protecting the interests of its farmers against all odds."
The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), a global reform of customs rules and procedures, aims to improve the efficiency of trade across borders, that is potentially seen as adding USD 1 trillion to global trade and creating 21 million jobs.
"India stood firm on its demands despite immense pressure. Despite India's efforts, our concerns were not satisfactorily addressed. We offered practical suggestions for a way forward," Sitharaman said.
"We offered practical suggestions for a way forward," she said, adding that the issue of permanent solution on public stockholding was a simple one.
Sitharaman said the problem was a very real one.
"Developing countries are finding themselves hamstrung by the existing rules in running their food stockholding and domestic food aid programmes."
"The developed world too had market price support programmes and was able to move away from such support - though not fully even now - because of their deep pockets. This is not possible for developing countries.
"It is important for developing countries to be able to guarantee some minimum returns to their poor farmers so that they are able to produce enough for themselves and for domestic food security," she said.
(Posted on 05-08-2014)