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The Indian delegation, led by commerce minister Anand Sharma, is approaching the WTO Ministerial in Bali with a ‘begging bowl’. The government has agreed to the so-called ‘peace clause’—a euphemism for not taking any penal action for violating commitments under Agreement on Agriculture (AoA)—proposed by WTO Director General but with the caveat that this will remain in place until a permanent relief is granted.
India’s concurrence with the ‘peace clause’ proposal of DG tantamounts to conceding that India has committed a violation but would want WTO to alter rules to allow developing countries to maintain agricultural subsidies in excess of 10% of agricultural GDP. This has catapulted developed countries to a position from where they resort to aggressive posturing. They are willing to grant immunity from penal action for only four years. But they refuse to promise a time-line as to when the permanent relief will come. They merely say this will be taken up for discussion at the next Ministerial in 2017. In other words, there is no guarantee that immunity will continue beyond four years even as India and other developing countries in the G33 club want it for an ‘indefinite’ period ‘without any break’. Even for granting this interim relief, developed countries are insisting on a plethora of conditions—submission of data on food procurement, stockholding, distribution and subsidies (including their computations) etc. These also include a demonstration that the subsidies are not trade-distorting.
Juxtaposed with the above conditions—some of these nearly impossible to comply—even the so-called interim relief would become redundant. And we would have a collateral damage of subjecting our entire food security system to monitoring and surveillance by WTO.
So, what is this violation of WTO rules that India is worried about; a worry that has pushed our negotiators/strategists bending backwards and accept conditions that were not there even in AoA?
The trigger is the Food Security Act (FSA), which will result ‘allegedly’ in India’s agricultural subsidy—AMS (aggregate measurement support) in WTO parlance—to exceed de minimis 10% that developing countries can maintain under AoA (1995).
We need to be clear what is AMS? How it is determined as per WTO