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GENEVA : India cannot be pressured into signing an agreement on any issue at the World Trade Organization, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal warned as he joined talks with trade ministers from more than 160 countries in Geneva on Sunday to negotiate deals on trade issues in the first such meeting since the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.

Goyal and his fellow-ministers are set to negotiate for an outcome on four broad themes -- food security and agriculture, fisheries subsidies, a patents waiver on covid-19 vaccines and pandemic response, and customs duty on e-transmission.

At the plenary session on Sunday, Goyal urged countries that a permanent solution on the issue of public foodstocks should be the topmost priority of the ongoing 12th ministerial meeting in order to protect the rights of developing countries to keep supporting their resource-poor farmers.

While developed and the developing countries are set for a face-off on key issues amid sharp divergences, Goyal said that India will be open to discussions towards consensus building during the during the four-days of hectic talks taking place at the Centre William Rappard (CWR) building on the shores of Lake Geneva.

India may hold a round of talks with key countries on the sidelines of meet to arrive at a consensus on its key demands on issues including fisheries subsidies and agriculture.

“India is going to stand strongly for its farmers, poor, and on the issue of food security at the WTO. India cannot be pressured into signing an agreement: no power on earth that can force India on any issue. India will stand for its people of India, what is good for our farmers, for its youngsters, food security but one is always open to discussion for global good," said Goyal in a press briefing on Sunday.

Negotiations are set to be complex and long because the WTO works on the principle of consensus rather than votes to find the middle-ground toward what are called ‘outcomes.’

Monday will be taken up by discussions on the demand for a patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines, as well as food security. The WTO’s 164 member countries will discuss fisheries and agriculture on Tuesday, followed by a talks on WTO reforms and extension of a moratorium on customs duty e-transmission on Wednesday.

While India is seeking a “permanent solution" on public stockholding to ensure higher farm support for its resource-poor farmers, the draft agreement on agriculture suggested that the matter has been deferred to the next ministerial meeting and only the Work Programme on that will be decided in the ongoing ministerial.

However, India’s ambassador to the WTO Brajendra Navnit insisted that New Delhi’s proposal, floated by the G-33 and African nations, was very much on the table and that India will press for a permanent solution on the issue in the current ministerial meeting.

Goyal urged the G-33 grouping of developing countries to reach out to like- minded countries, and secure support for a “fair, balanced and development centric" outcome, which must include the permanent solution to public stockholding and the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) -- which seeks to safeguard the interests of the poorest.

“What is the logic of saying that there will be a fresh work program and that there will be a ministerial declaration in MC12. Is it being done to try and fish us out on an agreement in fisheries by offering a work program. I still think we all need to reflect on (whether) what was decided should be pursued and included this time or whether it should once again be agreed for a work program, taking us back to square one, eight years or nine years after the initial agreement," said Goyal in his G-33 address.

Goyal also met the WTO DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, USTR Katherine Tai and South African trade minister Ebrahim Patel on the sidelines of the ministerial conference.

Meanwhile, WTO DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at a press briefing at the onset of the WTO ministerial meeting said that the road to an outcome from the ongoing ministerial conference will be bumpy and rocky.

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