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India may not have much to look forward to in agriculture at the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s upcoming ministerial meeting, going by the latest draft texts circulated among member countries. The lack of progress on its key demands, including a permanent solution on public stockholding, makes any meaningful outcome for India look difficult, experts said.

The negotiations on agriculture in Geneva are taking place based on three broad agendas– a draft declaration on trade and food security, exemption of export restrictions on world food programme (WFP) purchases, and a text on decisions on agriculture. These do not, at the moment, include India’s key demands. The draft text talks about working towards an outcome on a permanent solution on public stocking for food security only by the next ministerial conference.

“We are actively involved in the discussions on agriculture at the ministerial. We are looking for a favourable outcome which accommodates India’s concerns. We need to see if a compromise can be reached in the coming few days. The current text is imbalanced," said a government official.

The WTO ministerial conference takes place on 12-15 June, after a gap of four years. The chair of the agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Gloria Abraham Peralta (Costa Rica), said, “The revised document does not accommodate all the comments from members, as some positions are too far apart to be reconciled. The new draft texts formed the basis of a realistic outcome that would be able to guide further negotiations after the Ministerial Conference while meaningfully responding to the ongoing food crisis." The texts will be further revised, taking into account comments from member countries.

The draft text on UN’s world food programme purchases says that members shall not impose export prohibitions or restrictions on foodstuffs purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the WFP.

But India wants WTO to allow exports from public stocks for international food aid, including on a government-to-government basis.

“Under the provisions of the relevant WTO rules, member countries can temporarily impose export prohibitions or restrictions to prevent critical shortages of foodstuffs or other products essential to the country," said a government official.

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