India’s new trade envoy faces uphill task of resolving food security issue at WTO
Geneva: India’s new trade envoy J.S. Deepak faces an unenviable task in securing New Delhi’s core multilateral trade objectives—especially the mandated permanent solution for public stockholding programmes (PSH) for food security by the end of the year—as “some members” at the World Trade Organization (WTO) resort to diversionary tactics by not engaging in substantive discussions, according to a so-called non-paper seen by Mint.
Deepak, who takes over as new trade envoy on 1 June, assumes office in Geneva at a time when there is no clarity yet on what the WTO’s 164 members are going to accomplish at the eleventh ministerial meeting in just about seven months in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Known as a tough negotiator in his earlier role as India’s point man in multilateral trade negotiations during 2014-15, Deepak has his task cut out on several fronts, particularly in securing the proposed permanent solution on PSH programs for food security at Buenos Aires.
After the last ministerial meeting in Nairobi in December, 2015, there are considerable hopes on truly “developmental” outcomes such as the permanent solution for PSH for food security in developing countries and the special safeguard mechanism for curbing unforeseen surges in imports of agricultural products.
Trade ministers at Nairobi had mandated their officials to finalize a permanent solution for PSH programs prior to the Buenos Aires meeting. But “some countries” have refused to engage in substantive discussions on the permanent solution after the Nairobi meeting.
On 29 May, Indonesia issued a non-paper on behalf of the G-33 group of developing and poorest countries to drive home the message of sharp concern over lack of engagement by “some members” for finalizing a permanent solution for PSH programs.
India is a leading member of the G-33 along with Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Korea, Kenya, Nigeria, Cuba, and Bolivia among others. The G-33 members have made sustained efforts over the past three years but there has been little material change because of the continued diversionary tactics adopted by “some members”.
The non-paper said: “It is a matter of concern that in the course of the dedicated sessions, some members are still questioning the justifiable objectives behind the need for a permanent solution on Public Stockholding (PSH) for food security purposes and have not engaged in substantive discussions by tabling their [counter] proposals.”
“In our [the G-33 group’s] understanding, this means that these members are questioning the Ministerial Decision which have been the bedrock of WTO as an institution,” Indonesia argued.
Without naming any country, Indonesia maintained that “onerous” conditions such as burdensome transparency notification provisions are being placed to ensure that “developing members are unable to use the mechanism.”
It is common knowledge that Australia, Canada, the European Union, and the US among others have adopted stonewalling and diversionary tactics since the Nairobi meeting in frustrating the G-33 members by raising issues outside the proposals they had submitted, according to trade envoys familiar with the development.
Indonesia said the G-33 had tabled five proposals till now to demand an amendment to the Agreement on Agriculture by inserting “a new Annex 6” to exempt food security purposes for public stockholding for food security purposes from any commitments.
But US, the EU, Canada and Australia among others raised extraneous issues outside the permanent solution, according to a trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.
The US, for example, had suggested the need to “review the efficacy and trade effects of the existing public stockholding (programs) for food security purposes, to review the existing WTO rules and policies adopted by members and how these policies are constrained by those rules, and finally to establish best practices and provide funding for capacity building to implement the agreed best practices,” according to a trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.
Indonesia maintained that “programmes for the acquisition of foodstuffs at administered prices” “shall not be required to be accounted for in the Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS or amber box reduction measures).”
The G-33 has protested against US attempts to take the negotiations away from finding a permanent solution.
“Whenever the discussions on permanent solution come up,” the G-33 group said they have been “hearing some Members express their concerns such as those relating to exports from public stocks and a Member’s public stockholding programme adversely affecting the food security of other Members,” as per the non-paper.
India also wants outcomes on the special safeguard mechanism for curbing unforeseen surges in imports of agricultural products and credible improvements in the global trade in services.
Against this backdrop, the biennial ministerial meeting in South America is the most important event for WTO members. But, the US, which created the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in 1948 that was replaced by the WTO in 1995, is having second thoughts about pursuing multilateral trade initiatives.
The Trump administration in Washington is increasingly preoccupied with bilateral trade agreements, and reckons that multilateral trade liberalization does not bring about positive gains to American workers.
The WTO’s director-general will hold a one-on-one meeting with the new US Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lightizer in Washington on Thursday to find out the US’ trade priorities, including what it wants to accomplish at the Buenos Aires meeting, according to people familiar with the development.