Indian minister stresses on need to address food security

Published in SUNS #7672 dated 10 October 2013

Geneva, 9 Oct (Kanaga Raja) -- The Minister of Commerce and Industry of India, Mr Anand Sharma, has underscored the need to address the concerns of food security, adding that a solution to the G-33 proposal on this issue "would be an important contribution by the WTO towards addressing the challenges of food security in developing countries."

These remarks came in a press release issued by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry on the occasion of the first visit by new WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo to the country where he met with Mr Sharma on 7 October.

According to the Indian government press release, Mr Sharma and Mr Azevedo had a detailed discussion on the issues being negotiated for an outcome in the Bali Ministerial Conference.

Mr Sharma assured the WTO D-G that India would remain fully engaged with all key stakeholders from the developed and developing countries "to find a fair and balanced outcome" in Bali.

The press release cited the Indian minister as stressing that the centrality of multilateral processes must be retained.

"All Members need to work together to strengthen the WTO as an institution. Though Bali is not the end of the road, it is to be seen as a stepping stone to conclusion of the Doha Round. The success of this round is critical for multilateralism," he said.

While recognising the importance of Trade Facilitation (TF) and upgrading infrastructure at border, ports and custom procedures for giving a boost to exports, Mr Sharma underscored the need for addressing the concerns of food security which have been outlined in a proposal presented by G-33 countries.

According to the press release, the minister observed that "food security is the most fundamental of human needs and the lack of it can have profound ramifications as seen during the food price volatility and crises of recent years."

"A solution to the G-33 proposal would be an important contribution by the WTO towards addressing the challenges of food security in developing countries," Mr Sharma said, noting that "public stockholding programmes are widely used to ensure food security in many developing countries where agriculture is largely rain-fed."

"Updating of the rules would greatly help these countries in carrying out such operations without defaulting on their commitments."

According to the press release, Mr Sharma urged the D-G "to persuade all parties to discuss the food security proposal constructively."

He noted that "developing countries are finding themselves hamstrung by the existing rules in running their food stockholding and domestic food aid programmes. The developed world too had market price support programmes and was able to move away from market price support - though not fully even now - because of their deep pockets."

This is not possible for developing countries, said the minister, adding that it is important for developing countries to be able to guarantee some minimum returns to their poor farmers so that they are able to produce enough for themselves and for domestic food security.

According to the press release, Mr Sharma "expressed satisfaction at the intensification of discussion on the G33 proposal but also voiced his concern about the hardening of positions of some Members who are now proposing stringent conditions to be satisfied before an interim mechanism can be availed of. These conditions will make it difficult, if not impossible, to use."

On the issue of Trade Facilitation, he stressed that "it is important to honour the provisions of the mandate relating to special and differential treatment of developing countries including LDCs and support and assistance to such countries."

According to the press release, Mr Sharma and Mr Azevedo "agreed that a lopsided outcome of the Doha Round is not in anyone's interest. It is up to all of us to participate actively in the negotiations in order to arrive at that balance."

Also referring to the LDC issues, Mr Sharma stressed that "these merit urgent and active attention, so that we can move some steps closer to their fuller integration into international trade. Without this, any early harvest package would be incomplete and unacceptable."

He said that India is firmly with the LDCs on their proposals, noting that it has already implemented Duty Free Quota Free market access for LDCs.

According to the press release, a proposal to increase coverage of items under duty-free List to around 97% (from 85% at present) of the total tariff lines at 6 digit level and to further liberalise the Rules of Origin is under the active consideration of the Government of India.

The press release cited the Indian minister assuring the D-G of "India's cooperation in striving to achieve a balanced outcome at Bali and an early resolution of remaining issues in the DDA [Doha Development Agenda] post-Bali."

[During his visit to New Delhi, Mr. Azevedo also had meetings with the two apex business groups of India: the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII).

[Indian media reports, after the meetings of Mr. Azevedo and Mr. Sharma, had said that India may have to settle for a temporary solution of a 'peace clause' for 2-3 years to meet its concerns about the validity of its Food Security legislation.

[In a blog-post referring to this, Devinder Sharma, an Indian trade and agriculture policy analyst and civil society activist campaigner against hunger, cited the visiting WTO D-G as asking India to consider the 'Peace Clause' as an option to protect subsidies under the proposed National Food Security Act in return for agreeing to trade facilitation (TF).

[The blog-post can be found at:]

[In his blog-post, Sharma cited Azevedo as telling the CII: "Food Security is a squarable circle. The line between price support and food security is very flimsy and not easily drawn. It is going to be a complex task... What we have agreed in Geneva is we are going to be working on a Peace Clause ... which allows negotiators to find a more permanent solution for the long term."

[Sharma said the compromise that India is considering to ensure that the Bali negotiations proceeds ahead without any hiccup "will now bring millions of hungry on the chopping block. It also threatens the livelihood security of millions of small farmers who receive an assured minimum support price for their crop produce..."

[He added that now this is where India needs to exert pressure rather than accepting the Peace Clause as a solution (simply because it gives the ruling UPA Government an easy walkover before the 2014 elections). "Deferring the contentious issue is not a solution. India must stand up and resist developed countries' pressure. After all, it is India's responsibility to feed its hungry population as well as ensure livelihood security for its 600 million farmers. Even if Bali Ministerial fails, India cannot compromise the fate of 2/3rd of its population. The hungry in India cannot be traded at the altar of development," he said.

[A Peace Clause "will only sacrifice millions of hungry Indians for an unjust trading regime. Let the WTO die a peaceful death instead," he commented in his post. - SUNS]