M A I N   N E W S

Crucial WTO meet today, govt set to defend food security plan
Anand Sharma rules out compromise on UPA government’s gamechanger
Sanjeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 2
Citing national consensus and political unanimity on food security, India on Monday took a tough line on the issue and slammed farm lobbies of developed countries a day before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting in Bali.

Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, who is leading the Indian delegation for the Bali talks, said food security must be protected from all challenges at the WTO.

Under the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture, farm subsidy is capped at 10 per cent of total farm production. India is arguing that food security is non-negotiable and also that the WTO-benchmarked prices are 30 years old and outdated as food prices have soared in the interim.

Speaking at the G-33 meeting -- a group of developing countries -- on the eve of WTO talks, Sharma said there was national consensus and complete political unanimity on food security and pushed for an interim solution that protects India from all challenges at the WTO.

With the General Elections less than six months away, any compromise on food subsidy and the interests of farmers was not a political option for the government, which is why the tough stance. Also, with the Food Security Bill being a UPA trump card for the elections, the government is keen to ensure adequate safeguards for its implementation.

With developing countries, especially India, taking a very tough stand on food subsidy at the WTO meeting, there is not much optimism over how much can be achieved in Bali as food security and trade facilitation, which is jargon for easier customs procedures, are the two main items. While developed countries are pushing for easier customs norms, developing countries are seeking a solution on food subsidy.

Sharma slammed developed countries and their farm lobbies in no uncertain terms and batted for protecting small farmers. “For decades, a handful of farm lobbies of some countries have shaped the discourse and determined the destiny of millions of subsistence farmers of developing countries. The massive subsidisation of the farm sector in developed countries is not even a subject matter of discussion, leave aside serious negotiations,” he said.

Stressing the need for a fair balance in the Bali outcome, Sharma said: “We can no longer allow the interests of our farmers to be compromised at the altar of mercantilist ambitions of the rich. The Bali Ministerial Meeting is an opportunity for the developing countries to stay united in resolve to demonstrate the centrality of agriculture in trade talks.”

Stressing that procurement and public stockholding for food security were instrumentalities used by developing countries to secure the interests of the poor and the vulnerable, Sharma has urged updating of WTO rules under the Agreement on Agriculture as it would rectify inherent flaws and then help developing countries in carrying out such legitimate operations without defaulting on their commitments.

The G-33 proposal on food security aims to address problems faced by developing countries due to outdated WTO rules, which base agriculture subsidy calculation on external reference prices of 1986-88, even as global food prices have increased manifold during this period. “It is surely reasonable,” the minister said. “We should not be asked to peg farm support calculations on prices which were prevailing thirty years ago.”

Make-or-break summit

  • The UPA’s flagship food security scheme guarantees highly subsidised foodgrains to two-thirds of India’s population
  • It cannot be implemented if the current subsidy levels set by WTO for India are accepted
  • Compromise on food subsidy and farmer interest is not an option for the government with LS polls around the corner
  • There is not much optimism over how much can be achieved in Bali with developing nations taking a very tough stand on food subsidy





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