Buenos Aires: Signalling a hardening of its position, India on Monday said it does not envisage any negotiated outcome at the 11th ministerial conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that does not include a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding (PSH) for food security purposes. It also maintained that it would strongly oppose moves by some countries seeking a mandate to discuss investment facilitation.

Speaking at the plenary session ahead of closed doors negotiations, trade minister Suresh Prabhu said a permanent solution is a matter of survival for 800 million hungry and undernourished people in the world. “A successful resolution of this issue would fulfil our collective commitment to the global community," he said. The heads of delegation meeting was to start later on Monday where delegates will have to answer “Yes" or “No" to specific issues on the table. “We are still not clear what is the way forward after that. But we do expect there will be texts in some areas," an Indian trade diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

India has made it clear that it does not want decisions to be taken by a small group of members like in the Nairobi ministerial in 2015 and has sought greater transparency in decision-making.

On a permanent solution to public stockholding, the diplomat said a decision has to be taken by India whether to accept one that offers India only less onerous notification obligations. Other developing countries are seeking permission to introduce new food security programmes as well.

“We are seeking three things: easy workability of the peace clause than mandated, inclusion of future food security programmes and a stronger legal basis. Which element is good enough, we will take a judgment call (when the offer is made). But it has to be an improvement over what we currently have under the peace clause with no additional payments," he added.

Prabhu said new issues that are sought to be introduced into the negotiating agenda of the WTO, such as e-commerce and investment facilitation, would be “extremely divisive" .

“Shifting the priority from DDA (Doha Development Agenda) issues to non-trade issues like investment facilitation and MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), for which there is no mandate, is difficult to accept," he added.

A group called the Friends of Investment Facilitation (FIFD), comprising 11 countries including China, Pakistan and Brazil, has moved a proposal to appoint a facilitator for discussions on investment facilitation at the WTO.

“We will strongly oppose this. We are working with other like-minded countries," the Indian trade diplomat said.

On e-commerce, the official said the European Union, which was the only entity seeking a negotiating mandate, may not now insist on it. “At least that is the sense we got after our bilateral meeting with the EU trade commissioner," he added.

India is proposing that e-commerce discussions should continue at various working groups without any negotiating mandate. “In the interest of efficiency, we can agree to have dedicated discussions in respective bodies. But our emphasis on a bottom-up process and not bringing issues directly to WTO general council meeting remains," the Indian diplomat said.

India has also modified its stand on automatic extension of the moratorium to abstain from imposing customs duties on electronic transmission by two years at every ministerial conference. It now wants its position on the e-commerce discussions to be endorsed at the MC11 before giving the nod to any such extension.

Asit Ranjan Mishra is in Buenos Aires at the invitation of India’s commerce ministry to cover MC11.

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