New Delhi, Oct. 15: The Manmohan Singh government, successful in overcoming domestic political challenges to its landmark food security law, is now preparing for an international battle to insulate its promise to feed 800 million citizens from worried trading partners and potential global price volatilities.
India is trying to shape at a key upcoming meet an informal, common front of nations with similar food security concerns to counter any pushback from developed countries worried about the impact of such laws on the global food trade , senior government officials have told The Telegraph.
Indonesia last Friday became the latest nation to agree to work with India at global forums on food security, during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Jakarta.
But the search for partners that has already taken New Delhi from Brazil to Brunei is only set to grow ahead of a December World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Bali, where many expect food security — and India’s law in particular — to emerge a key focus of discussions.
“Absolutely, we will talk to all nations that share our concerns over food security,” external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said in response to a question from this newspaper last Saturday on whether India plans to pursue discussions with other nations on its concerns ahead of the Bali meet.
India’s concerns revolve around the response of developed nations to its food security law that will require it to bolster its domestic agricultural subsidies and stockpile grains that it is offering at as low as Re 1 per kg to two-thirds of its citizens identified by the government as needy.
The US, Canada, and sections in other nations have alleged that the law effectively paves the way for India to violate WTO norms by increasing its protectionist barriers, and have likened the stockpiling of grains to hoarding that could skew global food prices.
India fears this sentiment may lead to pressure at the Bali ministerial conference against food security laws enacted by developing nations. It is worried that any reaction that leads to market instability or price fluctuations could imperil the implementation of the food security law at a time controlling the deficit is already proving a challenge.
The concerns themselves aren’t new — nor are India’s attempts to get the WTO to hear them.
But over the past few months, as the UPA government tackled domestic opposition to get Parliament’s nod for the food security bill, India’s negotiators have pushed harder to win support for a common proposal on food security by the G-33 group of developing nations.
India has also lobbied hard for the proposal that allows for limited stockpiling of food items with other nations outside the G-33.
“It is important to make a very clear distinction that these stockpiles are not for trading, not for finding a market for our agriculture and other goods, but for safety and security of our people,” Khurshid said, speaking while returning from Jakarta with the Prime Minister on his special flight.The grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa has agreed to work together at the WTO on food security, a pact they reaffirmed when the leaders of the five nations met in September in St Petersburg on the sidelines of the G-20.
Last Thursday, the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) agreed to collaborate with India on food security.
Just hours earlier, India ensured that the East Asia Summit that includes both allies like the Asean nations, China and Russia, and potential critics like Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the US left New Delhi with wiggle room at the WTO.
The grouping issued a joint statement that asked nations to back off from protectionist measures, but accepted the supremacy of “national laws and regulations to promote food security.”