The 11th ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Buenos Aires hung in the balance on Tuesday after the US refused to budge on relaxations demanded by developing countries to provide for their food security programmes.
The matter went into deadlock after India and China stuck to their stance.
A person who was part of the deliberations, but did not want to be identified, cited a US trade official as saying that Washington cannot agree to any permanent solution on public stockholding programmes for food security at Buenos Aires.
To be sure, there is still a day to go for the ministerial talks to end. If either side blinks, a breakthrough may emerge. At the time of going to print, the talks were deadlocked.
India and other developing countries argue that a permanent solution is needed because a four-year truce struck at the Bali WTO ministerial in 2013—the “peace clause"—comes to an end in a few weeks. The meeting at Buenos Aires was supposed to evolve a solution, failing which policies pursued by India— such as public procurement for food security and providing minimum support prices to farmers—could come under WTO scrutiny.
On Monday, trade minister Suresh Prabhu had made India’s position clear—that any outcome at Buenos Aires is presaged on a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security.
At a meeting of trade ministers from the US, European Union, China, India, Brazil and Australia on Tuesday morning, the US rejected any improvements proposed in the existing peace clause at Buenos Aires.
The official overseeing the outcomes on the permanent solution for public stockholding programmes for food security and other issues in agriculture, Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, held the meeting with the six countries.
Earlier, she issued a draft agreement on the permanent solution, but only with modest changes.
India and China, who have been demanding a credible outcome on permanent solution, expressed disappointment over its failure to address the improvements they had sought in the transparency and safeguard provisions.
Mohamed was expected to issue the draft text later on Tuesday to indicate a possible way out on the permanent solution.
According to a trade minister, who asked not to be quoted, the US said categorically that it is not in a position to address any improvement in the existing perpetual clause at this juncture.
Effectively, the US wants India to live with the existing peace clause with some little or modest changes.
A US official, who asked not to be quoted, said the US is not interested in any outcome at Buenos Aires except on a joint statement with more than 20 countries on trade in food and agricultural products.
“In order to face the challenge of producing more food in a safer and sustainable way, farmers must be able to access the full range of tools and technologies available for agricultural production" without regulatory barriers, the statement said.
An outcome on the permanent solution is key, as this is the only mandated issue for the Buenos Aires meeting.
Besides, there are continuing disagreements on proposed outcomes in several priority issues – agriculture, electronic commerce, a partial deliverable on banning government fisheries subsides and development flexibilities.
The WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo issued a bleak report suggesting that members have a long way to go to bring about progress on any of the issues.