India-WTO spat: New Delhi confident of winning over other members on food security issue

Aug 06 2014, 10:23 IST
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Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman talks to media at Parliament House in New Delhi. (PTI) Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman talks to media at Parliament House in New Delhi. (PTI)
SummaryIndia has refused to yield ground on its row with the World Trade Organisation...

India refused to yield ground on Tuesday on its spat with the World Trade Organisation and said it believed it could convince other members that its need for more freedom on food subsidies was legitimate.

Trade Minister Nirmala Sitharaman did not give details in a statement she made in parliament, but her comments offered a robust and uncompromising defence of the Indian position, suggesting the government planned to dig its heels in on an issue that has isolated New Delhi.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new government vetoed the adoption of a treaty to simplify, standardise and streamline the rules for shipping goods across borders, having previously agreed to its terms at a ministerial conference on the Indonesian resort island of Bali last December.

Most diplomats had expected the pact to be rubber-stamped last week, marking a unique success in the WTO's 19-year history which, according to some estimates, would add $1 trillion and 21 million jobs to the world economy. India calls these estimates highly exaggerated.

It blocked the text because it wanted more attention paid to its concerns over WTO limits on stockpiling of food which will ultimately hit its subsidised food distribution programme, the world's largest, targeted at nearly 850 million people.

"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 take this issue forward in a positive spirit," Sitharaman said amid thumping of desks by lawmakers.

After drawing widespread condemnation as the deadline for the deal lapsed on July 31, India has said it is ready to sign the global trade deal as early as next month if other WTO members agree to its demand for concessions on food subsidies, estimated at $12 billion a year.

India fears that once it agrees to trade facilitation - largely seen to help advanced nations - it would have lost the bargaining chip on the subsidy issue.

"India is not standing in way of implementation of Trade Facilitation but seeking equal level of commitment and progress in working on the issue of public stockholding," Sitharaman said.

"A permanent solution on food security is a must for us and we cannot wait endlessly in state of uncertainty while WTO engages in an academic debate on subject of food security," she said.

FATAL BLOW

But in vetoing the first worldwide trade reform measure in nearly two decades, India may have dealt

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