Govt concerned over WTO attempt to push developed worlds agenda

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 20 2014, 06:07am hrs
The government has expressed concern over the WTO Secretariat's perceived attempts to actively push only the developed world's interests in the run up to the recent trade facilitation agreement (TFA) talks that failed primarily due to India's insistence on seeing progress on the issue of public stock-holding for food security.

The ministry said it will explore all options to convey its unhappiness over the way the Secretariat, especially its press department, functioned in the days leading to the July 31 deadline for adoption of the TFA protocol.

The WTO secretariat which should have remained neutral as the WTO is a member-driven organisation tried to actively push only the developed countries' points of view. There was pressure on us (the Indian government) due to the reports appearing in the Western media also. It was an orchestrated attempt to move the discourse to a particular direction without taking into account the concerns of the poor and developing countries. The message was that if the TFA deadline (of July 31) was not met, it would jeopardise the Bali package (which was not true), a senior commerce ministry official said.

The official pointed out that WTO negotiations have continued despite missing deadlines on several occasions earlier on issues such as export subsidies that have remained inconvenient to the developed world. These subsidies, maintained by the developed world, are enormously trade distorting. Another official said the ministry's concern was over the omission on the part of the WTO Secretariat in highlighting the concerns of the developing and poor countries along with that of the developed world.

Meanwhile, India maintained its stand that the Bali package should be implemented as a single undertaking including the TFA, a permanent solution on public stock holding for food security for the hundreds of millions of poor as well as a package for least developed countries.

New Delhi has also questioned the estimates that the TFA meant to ease customs rules worldwide could add $1 trillion to the global GDP and create 21 million jobs. These are inflated numbers. Most of the gains from TFA will go to the developed countries, an official said. However, the officials said they were hopeful that the WTO members would start work from next month onwards (when the WTO reconvenes) on finding a permanent solution to the issue of food security.

India had earlier suggested a four-point course of action including setting up a Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture to ensure clear-cut procedures, timelines and outcomes to arrive at a permanent solution on food security as well as on LDC issues by December 31, 2014. New Delhi had also sought a review of the progress of these accelerated discussions in October 2014 by the General Council.

On agriculture, the key issue is public stockholding for food security purposes. As per WTO norms for developing countries, public stockholdings of an item (such as rice and wheat) cannot be over 10% of the value of its production. India is challenging the calculation of public stockholding at 1986-88 prices citing inflation and currency fluctuation since then, and therefore wants the base year to be changed from 1986-88 to reflect current market realities.