WTO: India sounds warning over food security clause
Geneva: India’s WTO ambassador J.S. Deepak warned of a “spectacular failure” at the forthcoming Buenos Aires trade ministers’ conference if countries fail to deliver a credible “permanent solution” on public stockholding (PSH) programmes, said people familiar with the development.
The permanent solution has to be “an improvement” over the existing perpetual peace clause that was concluded at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) ninth ministerial conference in December 2013 in Bali, which was further clarified by the WTO General Council in November 2014, Deepak told an informal trade negotiations committee meeting on Tuesday.
Trade ministers had mandated WTO to conclude the permanent solution for PSH programmes by the 11th ministerial meeting that begins on 10 December. India, which is a member of the G33 coalition of more than 45 countries including China, remains concerned about “the excessively stringent transparency requirements and safeguard being proposed” by some opponents.
Deepak said while India is prepared to consider reasonable transparency provisions that are implementable by developing countries, it will not accept onerous conditions for safeguards as proposed in a joint proposal by Norway and Singapore. “As regards safeguards (in the Norway-Singapore proposal), we believe that the language in the Bali decision is overarching and attempts to add more conditions is unacceptable,” said Deepak, according to a person present at the meeting.
Norway and Singapore, in a restricted joint proposal on 20 November, proposed several “transparency” and “anti-circumvention/safeguard” conditions for availing of the permanent solution by developing countries.
The transparency conditions include informing WTO about “exceeding or risk of exceeding” the agreement measurement of support or most trade-distorting farm subsidy limits; timely notification of domestic subsidies; information about breaches if any on a post-ante basis; and prompt notification of statistical information.
The proposal listed two “anti-circumvention/transparency” conditions—for instance India and other developing countries must ensure that “stocks procured under such (PSH) programmes do not distort trade or adversely affect the food security of other members”.
Further, India and other beneficiaries of the permanent solution must ensure that stocks procured for their PSH programmes do not enter “direct or indirect exports”, Norway and Singapore maintained.
India said the permanent solution has to provide legal permanence through amendment of WTO rules. The mandate for a permanent solution on PSH flows from ministerial decisions and has no link whatsoever with the negotiations on domestic support [reduction commitment for farm subsidies],” said Deepak, according to the person mentioned above.
“The permanent solution cannot be held hostage to linkages which have never existed in the past,” said Deepak.
For India, according to Deepak, the “permanent solution is a gateway issue and we would like to caution that inability to deliver a permanent solution at MCXI [the 11th ministerial conference], may lead us all to a spectacular failure at Buenos Aires and irreparable harm to the credibility of the WTO”,
Indonesia, on behalf of the G33 coalition, said, “The establishment of a permanent solution on PSH for all developing members and accessible, simple and effective SSM remain priority for the Group which is also supported by some developing countries and LDCs, they shall be part of any Buenos Aires outcomes.” China said the Buenos Aires meeting must deliver a simple and effective permanent solution without onerous conditions.
At the informal meeting, the opponents of an easy and effective permanent solution for PSH programmes such as the European Union, Brazil, Australia and Pakistan among others insisted that there must be strong transparency and safeguard conditions in the final instrument. Brazil said the permanent solution has to be part of an outcome on domestic support.
The US is willing to support the permanent solution if it does not take the Bali decision backwards, implying that India must accept an outcome without any change/improvement from the December 2013 decision, said another participant from South America.
India also issued several red lines for the Buenos Aires meeting, particularly on new issues such as “investment facilitation, disciplines for micro, small and medium enterprises, and gender”, saying they “do not have mandates in place in the WTO”.
The Buenos Aires ministerial meeting is being held “at a particularly difficult time and context” for WTO and it is not “the opportune time to enter into contentious and divisive debates by seeking ambitious outcomes in e-commerce,” India cautioned at the meeting, said the person.
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