India on Wednesday rejected a proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference that can potentially harm the country’s small farmers as ministers battled to end a deadlock over negotiations to set up a rule-based global trade regime.
Developing countries want a deal to allow them to raise ceiling on food subsidies above what is permissible currently as well as a package for least developed countries.
Developed nations have shown support for a “peace clause” that would agree to developing countries’ demands on food security for a period of four years. India, however, wants guarantee for further exemption until a permanent solution is negotiated.
But developed countries are against any such move.
“A trade agreement must be in harmony with our shared commitments of eliminating hunger and ensuring the right to food. These are an integral part of the global Millennium Development Goals,” commerce minister Anand Sharma said at the plenary session of the 9th WTO ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia.
For India, food security is non-negotiable, he said. Need for public stockholding of foodgrains to ensure food security must be respected, and to this end, WTO rules must be updated, he added.
“The due restraint provision, in its current form, cannot be accepted. It must remain in force till we are able to agree on a lasting solution and provide adequate protection from all kinds of challenges,” the commerce minister said.
WTO member countries, he said, have a shared responsibility in preserving the credibility of the WTO as a trade negotiating forum, and that India has remained constructively engaged in the negotiations as he expressed disappointment at the agricultural package describing these as mere statements of intent for least developed countries (LDCs) and several unresolved issues in the trade facilitation agreement.
“Bali package must be substantive and historical imbalances in trade rules must be corrected in order to ensure a fair and equitable order,” he said.
He also said that in view of inherent imbalances, “ we consider it premature to lend support to an inconclusive trade facilitation agreement.”
“We must agree on a firm post-Bali work programme to conclude the DDA. Let Bali be remembered for bringing development back into focus,” Sharma added.
As many as 25 nations including Nigeria, Argentina, Kenya, Jamaica, Brazil, Cuba, South Africa and Bolivia are said to have strongly supported India’s view that a permanent solution is must for the smooth implementation of the food security programme.
During the meeting, which went for about two-and-a-half hours, about 25 out of 55 members, supported India’s stand on the food security issue.
Addressing the media, WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell said that during the long meeting in afternoon some members supported India’s stand. “Some African and Latin American countries have supported the India’s position on peace clause.”
In the absence of a broad-based agreement on the Doha round of trade talks that started in 2001, member-countries are making a last-ditch attempt to work out areas where consensus can be reached for laying down the rules of global trade.