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FM Nirmala Sitharaman asks WTO to allow India to export grains from official reserves

Extant WTO rules make it difficult for a country to export grains from official stocks if these have been procured from producers at a fixed price (minimum support price, in India’s case), instead of market rates.

Sitharaman said there is an urgency to bolster food production and the global food system. (AP/PTI)

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday impressed upon the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to permit India to ship out grains from its official granaries to help nations that are facing a food crisis.

Extant WTO rules make it difficult for a country to export grains from official stocks if these have been procured from producers at a fixed price (minimum support price, in India’s case), instead of market rates.

Speaking at a seminar on ‘Strengthening global collaboration for tackling food insecurity’ on sidelines of the third meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Bali, Sitharaman also stressed that food, fuel and fertiliser are “global public goods” and ensuring access of these products to developing countries is critical.

India, a net commodity buyer, relies heavily on imports of fuel, coal and fertiliser from various countries to tide over a growing domestic shortfall. It was forced to scour for good deals after elevated crude oil prices in the wake of the Ukraine war hit its finances.

The statement came almost a month after the WTO held its last ministerial in which members agreed to focus on making food available in developing countries while working towards increasing productivity and production. In April, too, Sitharaman had made a similar pitch to allow India to export from official stocks of wheat.

“WTO restriction that grains so procured cannot be brought to the market for exports. It is a condition which exists from the Uruguay Round days. We have repeatedly said that (we have surplus which) …we are quite willing to trade,” Sitharaman said.

The minister stressed that India can help in reducing hunger or food insecurity but there is a hesitation on the part of the WTO to allow grain exports from official reserves. Dozens of countries, especially those in Africa, are facing a food crisis due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

Sitharaman said there is an urgency to bolster food production and the global food system. She also shared India’s experience, including citizen-centric food security programmes and innovative delivery mechanisms such as the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme.

The world is going to celebrate 2023 as the international year of millets and given that India is a major millet-producing country, it can make valuable contribution to global food security, the minister said.

Sitharaman also huddled with Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister and finance minister of Canada. “The two ministers exchanged thoughts on #GlobalMacroEconomic outlook and risks, and discussed important issues of #G20Finance track,” Sitharaman’s office said in a tweet.

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