Rules block India’s efforts: WTO to help untie wheat export knot

Recently, PM Modi, in his talks with US President Joe Biden, offered to supply grains to other countries that are facing a food shortage should WTO norms allow it.

FM Nirmala Sitharaman in Washington on Saturday (PTI Image)
FM Nirmala Sitharaman in Washington on Saturday (PTI Image)

World Trade Organization (WTO) director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is looking ‘positively’ at resolving the issue that is hampering India’s bid to ship out wheat from state granaries to other countries that are facing a shortage caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said in Washington. The 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.Of course, exports by private traders who buy grains from farmers at market rates are not impacted by the WTO norm. There are already signs of increased purchases of wheat by private traders, given the lucrative export markets. Recently, PM Modi, in his talks with US President Joe Biden, offered to supply grains to other countries that are facing a food shortage should WTO norms allow it.

Sitharaman, who has been in the US since Monday to attend the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank, said: “…I have voiced that countries like India that have potential for supplying agricultural produce, particularly cereals, have faced difficulties with the WTO.” She said the WTO DG, who also attended the IMF’s plenary meeting on Thursday, said the multilateral body was looking at the issue ‘positively’.

New Delhi, the minister said, has been striving to carve such opportunities out of a “challenging situation” (the Ukraine crisis), which has driven up global oil and other commodity prices, hurting net importers like India. She listed potential exports of grain and manufactured products as an opportunity during this crisis.

India’s wheat exports in FY23 will breach the initial target of 10 million tonne and may even touch 15 mt, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said last week. “India is trying to one, of course, find markets for its product. Two, (it is seeking to) be of meaningful assistance, so that where there is hunger, there are grains to go, and nothing should stop them from going there,” Sitharaman said in Washington on Friday.

FM asks World Bank to save nations facing debt crisis
In a meeting with World Bank group president David Malpass on Friday, Sitharaman underscored the need to bail out countries that are in the grip of a debt crisis caused by the Covid outbreak and the recent geo-political developments. “In particular, the World Bank needs to pay special attention to Sri Lanka, which is facing an unprecedented economic situation,” Sitharaman said, according to a finance ministry statement on Saturday. Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since 1948, which has been compounded by a depletion of foreign exchange reserves.

FM meets Boeing Def CEO
Sitharaman on Friday met Boeing Defense CEO Ted Colbert and discussed investment opportunities in maintenance, repair, and operations and aircraft leasing in India.

Colbert informed the minister that Boeing is expanding its India operations and is committed to the vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

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