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India urges WTO to prepare agenda for Buenos Aires ministerial meet in December

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-08-2017 Asit Ranjan Mishra

New Delhi: India has urged the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to prepare the agenda for the next ministerial meet, to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, before October so that it could be given final shape at the mini-ministerial meeting to be held on 9-10 October in Morocco.

Sticking to this timeline will help avoid a repeat of the Nairobi Ministerial in 2015 where trade ministers had to discuss technical details of the agreement till the last moment.

India insists that, as promised, a permanent solution to the public procurement for food security needs to be part of the agenda for the Buenos Aires ministerial meet.

The third mini-ministerial conference of WTO will be held at Marrakech, Morocco on 9-10 October while the 11th ministerial meeting of the WTO will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 10–13 December.

“We have pointed out to WTO that the Nairobi ministerial was a disaster. Real negotiations need to happen in Geneva. You cannot take the minute details of the agenda to be discussed among a few members in a closed chamber at the ministerial,” a commerce ministry official said speaking under condition of anonymity.

“The WTO needs to make sure that all the promises made at two earlier ministerial meetings are given final shape at the Argentina ministerial. At least, the permanent solution to the public procurement that was promised to us at the Bali ministerial in 2013 needs to be delivered,” the official added.

The issue of public stockholding of food—which is important to India—revolves around the procurement of foodgrains from farmers at prices fixed by governments in order to promote the food security of poor countries. As these prices involve a degree of government subsidy, there is a cap on them because they could otherwise end up distorting global prices. However, developing countries insist that they should not be penalized for breaching any limits, arguing that such stockholdings are crucial for food security.

Though under the interim solution developed countries have pledged not to drag developing countries into disputes if they breach permissible subsidy levels, strict disclosure norms and the provision that a country cannot launch any new food program under the so-called Bali pact have virtually made the pact infructuous.

The deal incorporated India’s stand that a temporary solution on public stockholdings for food security reached at Bali in 2013 will continue indefinitely and not just for four years, as agreed earlier, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government opposed the deal, calling it “unbalanced” because it failed to take care of the concerns of developing nations on food security.

India also opposes a WTO rule that caps subsidies to farmers at 10% of the total value of agricultural production based on 1986-88 prices. It argues that the base year is now outdated and it needs to be given leeway to stock enough foodgrain to ensure food security for millions of poor people. India has proposed replacing the base year with the dynamic average of foodgrain prices of three recent years.

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