Nirmala Sitharaman. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Nirmala Sitharaman. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Govt draws flak for ‘not reinforcing’ India’s stand at WTO Nairobi meet

Congress, the Left, BJD and JDU criticise centre for compromise of India's stand on issues such as reaffirmation of Doha round of talks and food stockholding limits

New Delhi: The government on Wednesday came under attack from the opposition over the recently concluded World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Nairobi.

Leaders of the Congress, the Left parties, the Biju Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) were critical of the government over what they said was a compromise of India’s stand on key issues like the reaffirmation of the Doha round of talks and food stockholding limits.

The opposition forced a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on a statement submitted by trade minister Nirmala Sitharaman on India’s stand at the WTO.

In the Nairobi meet, India was unable to secure credible outcomes on a permanent solution for public stockholding programmes for food security and a reaffirmation to continue the Doha Development Agenda negotiations as well as protecting its right to impose tariffs to protect domestic agriculture through a special safeguard mechanism.

Why did the government become a party to the Nairobi Declaration, given that it did not address India’s concerns, asked Anand Sharma of the Congress, who was trade minister in the previous administration and is now the deputy leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha.

“Paragraph 30 of the declaration makes it very clear that there has not been a categorical re-affirmation. It says that some countries want it and some countries do not want. The Doha round is the only round which is dedicated to the development agenda. Why did India agree to paragraph 30," he asked.

“Now we have become party to that. I am aware of the subsequent protest. But once the declaration is adopted, we are a party to the declaration."

The Indian government has buckled under US pressure on important issues on which Parliament had drawn “red lines", said Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

It was important that a few issues should have been clinched in India’s favour, he said. “One was on food stockholding. Now, on that issue, which is vital to the food security of millions of our young people, the assurance that we were seeking has not come," the Left parliamentarian said.

“The second one was on special safeguard mechanisms, or SSMs. It is our right to impose tariffs to protect our own agricultural producers from an influx of imports, subsidized imports that are coming in from the West. In order to protect that, we said that an assurance must be given. That has not come. Instead, there is a reference now that these issues will be discussed in subsequent meetings," he said.

“Doha is connected to our land and to our stomachs," K.C. Tyagi of the Janata Dal (United) said while demanding a clarification from the government.

Bhupinder Singh of the Biju Janata Dal said, “The whole country is waiting. Doha has gone down the drain and whatever has happened in Nairobi shows how the government is inclined. Will we work for the interest of the US and the European Union? Will we bend in front of the World Bank?"

Defending the government’s stand at the meeting, Sitharaman said that it did not bow to pressure from anyone.

“I want to reaffirm that India did not surrender before the US or the European Union," the trade minister said.

“In Nairobi, there were a lot of discussions and what we have ensured—and I underline this— is to have a reaffirmation of Bali and a reaffirmation of the General Council’s decision, which happened in November 2014, wherein a peace clause was given for perpetuity. The peace clause was not limited to any particular period. The Bali Agreement for Food Security mentioned that there will be a permanent solution by 2017," she said.

“And, from now, it will be our endeavour to ensure that the negotiations happen in the Committee on Agriculture Special Sessions, so that we can obtain a permanent solution. It will be our best effort," she added.

Later, Sitharaman told reporters that the government will pursue with greater vigour the proposal to find a permanent solution to the food security issue, besides continuing the fight for reaffirmation of WTO’s Doha round at Geneva.

PTI contributed to this report.

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