Food security can't be sacrificed to mercantilist interests, says India
The article below was published in South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 7858,6 August 2014.
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Food security can't be sacrificed to mercantilist interests, says India
Geneva, 5 Aug (Kanaga Raja) -- Issues of development and food security are critical to a vast swathe of humanity and cannot be sacrificed to mercantilist considerations, Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Ms Nirmala Sitharaman told the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, on Tuesday.
In a statement that was made available by the government's Press Information Bureau, the Indian Minister said: "Developing countries such as India must have the freedom to use food reserves to feed their poor without the threat of violating any international obligations. This is our sovereign right. It is our duty to protect our citizens' fundamental rights to life and livelihood."
The Minister was explaining the facts surrounding the stand taken by India at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last week.
The WTO last week had missed the 31 July midnight 'deadline' for the adoption of the Protocol of Amendment relating to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) (see SUNS #7856 dated 4 August 2014).
The General Council had earlier met on 25 July to discuss the TFA and later on the same day suspended its meeting due to a lack of consensus on the Protocol of Amendment with respect to the Agreement.
In their interventions at that General Council meeting, concerns were voiced by many developing countries about the lack in their view of forward movement on issues of importance to them in the context of the Bali package.
India made a strong statement wherein it said that it 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.
"In order to fully understand and address the concerns of Members, my delegation is of the view that the adoption of the TF Protocol be postponed till a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security is found. In this context we have suggested a modification to the Protocol in the PrepCom. We stand by that proposal," Indian Ambassador Anjali Prasad had told that General Council meeting.
In her statement at the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, Minister Sitharaman noted that in the Bali Ministerial Declaration of 7 December 2013, Ministerial Decisions were adopted on ten issues relating to the Doha Development Agenda.
Amongst these Ministerial Decisions, she said, two are of particular significance - the Ministerial Decision for an Agreement on Trade Facilitation and the Ministerial Decision on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes.
According to the Minister, the Trade Facilitation Agreement is basically aimed at greater transparency and simplification of customs procedures, use of electronic payments and risk management techniques and faster clearances at ports.
She noted that India had autonomously taken several similar measures such as the 'Indian Customs Single Window Project' announced in the Budget 2014-15 to facilitate trade, under which importers and exporters will be able to lodge documents at a single point, reducing interface with Governmental agencies, dwell time and the cost of doing business.
Ms Sitharaman said that in contrast to their efforts on Trade Facilitation in the WTO, some developed countries have been reluctant to engage on other issues.
"Seeing the resistance to taking forward the other Decisions, the apprehension of developing countries was that once the process of bringing the Trade Facilitation Agreement into force was completed, other issues would be ignored, including the important issue of a permanent solution on subsidies on account of public stockholding for food security purposes."
She underlined that India, therefore, took the stand that till there is an assurance of commitment to find a permanent solution on public stockholding and on all other Bali deliverables, including those for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), it would be difficult to join the consensus on the Protocol of Amendment for the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
"Without a permanent solution, public stockholding programmes in India and other developing countries will be hampered by the present ceiling on domestic support which is pegged at 10 per cent of the value of production and is wrongly considered as trade-distorting subsidy to farmers under existing WTO rules. The existence of such a subsidy element is determined by comparing present day administered prices with fixed reference prices of the 1986-88 period which is unrealistic," the Minister explained.
"The problem is a very real one. 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 such support - though not fully even now - because of their deep pockets. This is not possible for developing countries. 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," she added.
The Minister also pointed out that the developed countries continue to have large entitlements to provide support to farmers.
"These would have been cut in the Doha Development Round which unfortunately remains unfinished. Had this Round, which has development at its core, concluded as per the agreed timelines and its development agenda, the world would have had an outcome in a single undertaking in which competing interests could have been balanced. Today, developing countries are fighting to keep the negotiations focused on development against the single-minded mercantilist focus of most of the rich developed world on market access issues."
Overall balance is important even in a limited package of outcomes, the Minister stressed, adding that the Bali outcomes were negotiated as a package and must be concluded as such.
"It is regrettable indeed that today the WTO is unable to agree even to fast track negotiations on an issue of such importance to millions of subsistence farmers across the developing world, while the rich world can continue to subsidise their farmers unabatedly."
The Minister noted that the matter had come up for discussion in the margins of the BRICS Trade Ministers meeting in Brazil on 14 July and the G20 Trade Ministers meeting in Sydney on 19 July, and that it was also raised by the representatives of some countries in their interactions with the Indian government.
"On each occasion I explained that India is a signatory to the Bali Decisions, including Trade Facilitation and is not standing in the way of its implementation but is seeking an equal level of commitment and progress in working on the issue of public stockholding which affects the country's livelihood and food security. A permanent solution on food security is a must for us and we cannot wait endlessly in a state of uncertainty while the WTO engages in an academic debate on the subject of food security which is what some developed countries seem to be suggesting before they are ready to engage on this important issue."
Food security is a humanitarian concern especially in these times of uncertainty and volatility, said Ms Sitharaman, adding: "Issues of development and food security are critical to a vast swathe of humanity and cannot be sacrificed to mercantilist considerations."
"Developing countries such as India must have the freedom to use food reserves to feed their poor without the threat of violating any international obligations. This is our sovereign right. It is our duty to protect our citizens' fundamental rights to life and livelihood."
The Minister further noted that agriculture is the mainstay of the Indian population. "In a country of the size of India with 60% of the population dependent on a relatively unremunerative agriculture sector, we cannot give up administered prices. This is the only way we can procure food for the Public Distribution System (PDS), the central pillar on which our efforts to ensure food security, rest. Public stockholding is a widely used means to ensure food security in many developing countries where agriculture is largely rain-fed."
"We have to look after both consumer and producer interests. We have to enable our people to live a life of dignity by ensuring access to an adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices," said the Minister.
On 25 July 2014, the Minister recalled, India made a statement in the WTO General Council conveying, inter alia, that the adoption of the TF Protocol must be postponed till a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security is found.
India offered suggestions on the procedure to be followed in order to ensure time-bound delivery of an outcome on public stockholding for food security, and urged that a similar approach be adopted on all other elements of the Bali Package notably the LDC issues.
"The integrity of India's stand is reflected in our unwavering efforts to offer a way forward in the face of criticism. Even on 31 July 2014, India offered a way to achieve not only a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security but also to implement the Trade Facilitation Agreement in the agreed timeframe as well as deliver favourable outcomes for LDCs."
The Minister further said: "We have offered practical suggestions for the way forward. The issue of a permanent solution on public stockholding is a simple one that can be addressed very easily as there are already several proposals on the table. A solution to this simple problem will be a tremendous relief for millions of farmers and poor consumers. However, despite India's efforts, our concerns were not satisfactorily addressed."
"India stood firm on its demands despite immense pressure. The Government of India is committed to protecting the interests of our farmers against all odds. Our farmers work in extremely adverse conditions, most of them at the mercy of the vagaries of the monsoon, aggravated today by climate change. For farmers in many developing countries farming is a subsistence activity, not a commercial one. We are committed to their welfare and I am grateful for the support and understanding extended by farmers' organizations in this cause."
Reiterating India's commitment to the WTO, the Minister said: "We continue to believe that it is in the best interest of developing countries, especially the poorest, most marginalised ones among them and we are determined to work to strengthen this institution. The timely correction of any imbalances or anomalies in the working of the system or its rules is critical to ensure that the WTO works impartially and fairly in the interest of all its Members and not just a select few."
"I am confident that India will be able to persuade the WTO Membership to appreciate the sensitivities of India and other developing countries and see their way to taking this issue forward in a positive spirit. This would be a major contribution by this institution towards meeting the global challenge of food insecurity and would convey a strong message that the WTO is genuinely committed to the cause of development," the Minister concluded.