Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has expressed hope that officials in Geneva would start hectic parleys on WTO issues, including finding a permanent solution for public stockholding of food. “My view is that from September there will be hectic parleys on issues which are already mandated by the ministerial, one of which is finding permanent solution for public stockholding,” the minister told PTI in an interview. Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is its highest decision making body. The Bali and Nairobi meetings in 2013 and 2015 respectively had agreed on the issue of food stockpiling. India has time and again urged the WTO members to work on the issue. A permanent solution to the issue of food stockpiling is important for smooth implementation of India’s food security programme.
As per global trade norms, a WTO member country’s food subsidy cap should not breach the limit of 10 per cent, which is based on the reference price of 1986-88. There are apprehensions that full implementation of food security programme may breach this cap. So India wants amendments in the formula to calculate the food subsidy cap. There is a peace clause currently according to which no country can ask WTO to take action against a country that breaches the 10 per cent cap. This clause will be in place till a permanent solution is found for the food stockpiling issue.
This enables developing countries including India to continue procurement and stocking of foodgrain for distribution to poor under food security programmes without attracting any kind of action from WTO members even if it breaches the 10 per cent subsidy cap as prescribed by the multilateral trade body. Sitharaman said that finding a permanent solution is a legitimate issue as it was mandated by two ministerial meetings. She also said that WTO members should meet in Argentina with full preparations.
“Every issue on which solutions will have to be taken, work should be done in Geneva for preparations. You just cannot go to the ministerial directly without the preparatory work in Geneva,” she added. With India emphasising on this, key WTO members are holding a pre-ministerial meet in October in Morocco. “This has never happened before…first time it is happening,” she added.