Geneva: India has strongly protested against an assessment provided by World Trade Organization (WTO) director general Roberto Azevedo on Monday about “wide divergences" on a proposal aimed at protecting millions of resource-poor farmers in developing countries. India’s trade envoy Anjali Prasad told a closed-door meeting of trade envoys that the director general must not make “value-loaded" statements even before the launch of negotiations for the 11th ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires later this year, according to people familiar with the development.

On Monday, Azevedo, who is also the chair of the trade negotiations committee, gave his assessment on outstanding issues in the Doha agriculture dossier, including the possible outcomes for the Buenos Aires meeting. He said several issues such as the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) to curb unforeseen imports of agricultural products in developing countries, and export restrictions had been discussed in the run-up to the WTO’s 10th ministerial meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, over two years ago.

But on SSM, which has been a major demand from developing countries led by Indonesia and India since 2008, the director general said there “were wide divergences" among members in the run-up to the Nairobi meeting, said a trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.

Azevedo also said there was “lot of interest" in export restrictions—a proposal made by Japan to ensure that countries did not place barriers on exports of farm products.

ALSO READ: Trade deals in the Trump era

India defended the SSM proposal, suggesting the director general had failed to provide an accurate assessment. The Indian trade envoy raised concerns on process-related and substantive grounds over Azevedo’s opening remarks. On the process part, she said, “I would urge the chair not to make value-loaded statements on issues about having wide divergences and great interest" when the actual negotiations have not even started. Such statements by the DG, Prasad suggested, could “poison" the discussions as everybody knows “how things work in this house."

Without naming countries, she suggested that key members stonewalled negotiations on SSM in the run-up to the Nairobi meeting. It is common knowledge that during the special meetings convened by the former chair for Doha agriculture negotiations ambassador Vangelis Vitalis, WTO members such as the US, the European Union, Australia and Brazil rejected the SSM being demanded by India and 46 other countries. Australia had said that it will not engage on SSM without discussing issues in market access, a stand that was repeatedly echoed by the US, the EU and Brazil.

India along with members of the G-33 farm coalition had called for amending the WTO’s agreement on agriculture in order to include a new article for the SSM that would enable developing countries to impose additional duties on farm produce when they cross certain price and volume thresholds on a three-year rolling average.

The SSM, according to the proponents, was critical for its farmers in the current context of volatile global farm prices underpinned by the huge subsidies provided by major industrialized countries to their agricultural sectors.

India said the Buenos Aires meeting must produce outcomes on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security and SSM. Proposals on outcomes for domestic support at the 11th ministerial meeting, according to Prasad, are difficult to accept as they are changing the terms of the discussion. Kenya strongly supported India’s call for a permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security while Indonesia on behalf of the G-33 group emphasized the importance of outcomes on PSH and SSM. Turkey concurred with India that there has to be an outcome on SSM. Brazil also supported the demand for a permanent solution for public stockholding programs.

China remained silent during the meeting. In his concluding statement, Azevedo said it is his duty to give an assessment and that he will keep doing his duty, according to another trade envoy present at the meeting.

Close