India must push for trade policy instruments like Special Safeguard Mechanism to uphold the interests of its farmers
The Food Security Act (FSA) may be a welcome step for the country, but how does it really help the Indian farmer make a living? The bill doesn’t necessarily ensure their livelihood security especially when the agriculture sector doesn’t remain a domestic issue and is linked with world agricultural trade negotiations guided by WTO.
What needs to be done to make the FSA succeed is to empower the farmers in a complete sense, including their livelihood security, their rural income and development. Indian farmers will possibly be most benefited if the issues of livelihood, food security and rural development are equally considered at the WTO level (however, this is already contentious) to ensure the security of their entitlements as citizens of the country. Therefore, the issue before the government is not only spending its entire energy, using its institutional mechanism, fuel and fertiliser subsidies, PDS and instituting other fiscal measures to operationalise FSA, but also, more importantly, negotiating at multilateral trade forums to ensure all securities for the farmers.
In fact, agriculture remains a bone of contention for WTO member-countries even today. A host of issues have already been discussed at great length in the ongoing Doha round of negotiations. But, there is no end in sight. What is preventing WTO members from striking a deal is disagreement between the advanced (led by the US) and the developing countries like India, China, Brazil, etc. The debate is on whether to address the economic and social security of the farmers of developing countries or focus on trade. Two-thirds of WTO members are developing countries whose food security, livelihood and rural income are critically dependent on agriculture. They have a defensive interest in agriculture and are not keen to open up the sector for world trade whereas the industrialised countries are pushing their agenda of tariff reduction and market liberalisation of the sector so that they are in a position to export their products to developing countries and establish their global competitiveness in agriculture. Huge domestic subsidies to their farm sector are further helping them sell their products at cheaper prices in the global market which the developing countries can’t afford to do, as a result of which the latter’s competitiveness is globally diminished. Since industrialised countries like the USA and those in the EU are