India disappointed over ‘cavalier manner’ at WTO

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New Delhi | Published: December 17, 2015 1:18:53 AM

India on Wednesday displayed disappointment at the “cavalier manner” in which issues of vital importance to developing nations are pushed into the future at the 10th ministerial of the World Trade Organisation...

India on Wednesday displayed disappointment at the “cavalier manner” in which issues of vital importance to developing nations are pushed into the future at the 10th ministerial of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Nairobi, and expressed fears that the reform process started with the Doha round in 2001 “appears to be in jeopardy”.

Cautioning that “history will judge us poorly if the outcomes of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) perpetuate inequities in global trade”, commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman called for resisting temptations of overloading the WTO agenda with new issues, mostly advocated by developed nations, when “we are still grappling with the completion of the work of the DDA”.

India, along with other developing countries known as the G33, has been vociferously seeking a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding of commodities for food security and a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) to protect farmers against a sudden spurt in dumping, especially from developed nations, including the US and the EU, that offer massive trade-distorting subsidies to farmers.

Some of the key issues in the DDA are safeguard mechanism for countries like India to protect farmers against sudden spike in farm imports from developed nations that offer massive subsidies for agriculture, services liberalisation and tariff reduction, among others. Ironically, the developed countries enjoy the provision of special safeguard duties (SSG) to control irrational import surges but are reluctant to extend similar benefits to developing countries.

Subsequent to the Bali ministerial, India managed to get a permanent peace clause against its stock holding of commodities for the public distribution system as sort of quid pro quo for its support to the trade facilitation agreement (TFA), which the developed had pushed hard. A peace clause means no WTO member can drag India to the dispute panel for offering more product-specific support to farmers through procurement of grains than stipulated under the WTO until a permanent solution to the issue is found. However, unless the peace clause is formalised and finds a place in the final WTO draft, such an assurance has little meaning.

At the latest ministerial, the EU and other countries, including Brazil, are pushing for a deal on export competition, which will require emerging nations like India to make greater commitments in reducing their export support. But Sitharaman affirmed export competition is only one of the pillars of agriculture negotiations and such negotiations are finely balanced when actions on other aspects of the issue that have been negotiated since the Doha round (notably, the issue of reduction in huge trade-distorting farm subsidies offered by developed countries).

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