The Telegraph
Saturday , July 26 , 2014
CIMA Gallary

India puts foot down at WTO

New Delhi, July 25: India told the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Friday it would only back a world-wide reform of customs rules if its demands on food security were implemented in the same time frame.

“India is of the view that the Trade Facilitation Agreement must be implemented only as part of a single undertaking, including the permanent solution on food security,” Indian ambassador Anjali Prasad told a WTO meeting.

“My delegation is of the view that the adoption of the trade facilitation protocol be postponed till a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security is found.”

South Africa and Argentina supported India’s stand. The WTO was supposed to finalise the protocol by July 31 under an agreement reached among trade ministers in Bali last December.

Some estimates say the reforms in customs rules can add $1 trillion to the world economy and create 21 million jobs.

US ambassador to the WTO, Michael Punke, said Delhi’s stance could derail the whole process of world trade liberalisation. “Today we are extremely discouraged that a small handful of members in this organisation are ready to walk away from their commitments at Bali, to kill the Bali agreement.”

India, however, said, “The country’s expectations have been belied by the developments after the Bali ministerial. A clear will to engage in areas of interest to developing countries is conspicuously absent. To make matters worse, persistent efforts are being made to subvert the mandate by divesting it of its core elements.”

In a statement made in Geneva, where the 160 members of the WTO are meeting, India emphasised that a solution to the food subsidy issue was “important so that millions of farmers and poor families do not have to live in constant fear. To jeopardise the food security of millions at the altar of a mere anomaly of rules is unacceptable”.

“India is suggesting that let us start work in the right earnest on these issues and review the progress in October. The Committee on Agriculture can do back-to-back meetings for this,” a senior commerce ministry official said.

India feels a permanent deal on food stockpiling must be in place by the end of 2014, not by 2017 as previously agreed.

“While there has been progress on Trade Facilitation Agreement, other decisions, including a decision on public stockholding have been sidelined,” commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman informed Parliament in a written reply today.

“Till there is an assurance and visible outcomes... India would find it difficult to join the consensus on the trade protocol,” she added.

On missing the deadline of July 31, the ministry official said: “We can defer the time... We are not saying that we want to postpone it to eternity.”

On the allegations that India was blocking the WTO’s Bali deal, the official said: “We have not blocked the deal. If that will be the interpretation, God knows how many times WTO has been blocked.”

“No body said the WTO was blocked in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, or in 2013. Every time some country — a developed one — put its foot down and said no,” the official added.

India is concerned that no movement has taken place on finding a permanent solution and developed countries could run away with an agreement on trade facilitation if the two are not linked.

The current WTO norms limit the value of food subsidies at 10 per cent of the total value of foodgrain production. However, the support is calculated at the prices that are over two-decade old.

“The developed nations must be told in clear terms that the issue of farmers’ security and welfare of the poor is not negotiable,” Assocham said.