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New Delhi: After key members of the G-33 group of developing countries deserted India on the issue of food security at the Bali meet of the World Trade Organization (WTO), making it difficult for it to negotiate a favourable deal, there is greater realization among Indian policymakers that they may now have to fight a lonely battle.

The G-33, a grouping of nations that coordinates on trade and economic issues at the WTO, has 46 countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America as members.

While developed countries put forth trade facilitation with an intention to streamline global customs rules for easier transit of goods in the agenda for Bali meeting which concluded earlier this month, the G-33 group wanted protection of their food security programmes from violating WTO rules on food subsidy limits.

However, as negotiations kicked off at Bali and trade minister Anand Sharma declared that food security was a non-negotiable issue, India found itself isolated, with most G-33 countries, including China, Brazil, Pakistan and host Indonesia, drifting away on the issue to secure a deal at Bali.

India’s position, in view of its extreme poverty, is not comparable with many other nations, which is why it will find itself increasingly isolated on many issues, said a commerce ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity.

“In our agriculture activity, there are a lot of small and marginal farmers. But in countries like in Latin America, there is no concept of small and marginal farmers. There are huge mechanized farming communities," he said. “So there, even if they make a slight concession, it does not affect their future as much as it will affect millions of farmers in India. In many of these countries, it is also no more a livelihood issue."

China will fight with India as a developing country only when it suits its interest, according to the official. “China’s poverty levels are not same as ours. They have a huge landmass. So even though they may be 1.35 billion people, their density is not as high as ours and their landholding is not as critical as ours. Look at climate change," he said. “We will soon lose China in the debate. They are moving away from the developing countries’ stand."

While developed countries were ready to give India a four-year leeway, during which it will not be sued under WTO rules if it breaches the 10% subsidy limit of the total value of agricultural production based on 1986-88 prices, India insisted the interim measure put in place should continue until a permanent solution to the issue is arrived at.

After several rounds of negotiations between Sharma and US trade representative Michael Froman, often mediated by WTO director general Roberto Azevedo, a breakthrough was achieved, with India getting its way on its demand. However, India has to adopt tough disclosure norms in its food security programme and ensure that it does not sell government-procured food grain in overseas markets, which could distort international trade.

In the forthcoming Doha work programme, which is to be finalized in the next 12 months, it is absolutely necessary that cohesion among the G-33 member countries is maintained to protect their interest, according to Abhijit Das, director of the Centre for WTO Studies at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade. “Developing countries should learn the lesson from the Uruguay round of negotiations, where they got an asymmetric agreement because of a lack of coordination," Das said.

One of the key reasons of the divergence of opinion among developing countries was because Indonesia, being the coordinator of the G-33 group, could not take a strident position on the food security matter as it wanted to seal a deal at Bali as the host nation, said Biswajit Dhar, director-general at Research and Information System for Developing Countries, a think tank.

“India should really up the ante and put its diplomatic act in place to establish consensus on major issues among the developing countries," Dhar said. “We have to play our card very smartly."

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