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India To Raise Food Security Issue at WTO Meeting in Geneva

WTO Director-General in May 2022 brought three draft texts on agriculture, trade and food security and exemption of the World Food Programme from export restrictions for negotiations.

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India will pitch for a permanent solution to its food security concerns at the 12th ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that begins in Geneva, Switzerland, after a gap of five years.

The Indian delegation at the meeting will be led by Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal.

“India has a vital stake in protecting the interests of all stakeholders in the country as well as the interests of the developing and poor nations that look up to the leadership of India at multilateral forums including WTO,” the Ministry of Commerce & Industry said in a statement.

The key areas of discussions and negotiations at this year’s conference include WTO’s response to the pandemic, fisheries subsidies negotiations, agriculture issues including Public Stockholding for food security, WTO reforms and moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmission.

WTO Director-General in May 2022 brought three draft texts on agriculture, trade and food security and exemption of the World Food Programme from export restrictions for negotiations.

“India has reservations about some of the provisions in the draft decisions and has been engaging in the process of discussions and negotiations in order to be able to preserve the rights under the agreement on agriculture without undermining the existing ministerial mandates,” the Ministry of Commerce & Industry said.

An important issue under negotiation at the WTO relates to the protection of India’s food grain procurement programme at Minimum Support Prices (MSP). Such programmes involve purchase from farmers at administered prices and are key to support to farmers and consumers in the country. WTO rules limit the subsidy that can be provided to such products being procured.

This issue is being negotiated at the WTO by the G-33, coalition of developing countries of which India is a key member and the African Group which have come together along with the ACP group in submitting a proposal on permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes on 31 May 2022. India co-sponsored a G-33 proposal for a permanent solution on PSH for food security purposes at the WTO, on 15 September 2021, which had co-sponsorship of 38 Members.

In the negotiations, improvements are being sought by developing countries over the ministerial decision adopted at the ninth ministerial conference of the WTO in Bali in December 2013 where members agreed to negotiate a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes by the 11th Ministerial Conference of the WTO.

It was agreed that in the interim, until a permanent solution is reached, Members would exercise due restraint (commonly termed as ‘peace clause’) in raising disputes in respect of public stockholding programmes for food security purposes instituted before 7th December 2013, even if countries exceeded their permissible limits. Consequent to the firm stand taken by India at the WTO, this peace clause was extended by a decision of the WTO General Council (GC) in November 2014 until a permanent solution was agreed and adopted.

Thus, it was ensured that the ‘peace clause’ would be available in perpetuity. At the Nairobi Ministerial Conference held in December 2015, WTO members agreed to engage constructively to negotiate a permanent solution.

India neither wants to link PSH issue with other agriculture issues nor a work programme as negotiating a permanent solution has a standalone mandate at the WTO, the ministry said.

Another issue under discussion relates to additional disciplines on export restrictions on agricultural products. The proponents on export restrictions are seeking outcome on two issues: (i) exemption of foodstuffs purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the World Food Programme (WFP) from the application of export restrictions, and (ii) advance notification of export restrictive measures, including improving compliance with existing notification requirements.

Other areas of discussion in agriculture are issues relating to market access, special safeguard mechanism for developing countries to protect domestic agricultural producers against import surges and sudden price falls, through additional import duties, on the lines of a similar safeguard presently available to many developed and few developing countries.

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