WTO ministerial: Piyush Goyal seeks permanent solution to food security row

India slammed inadequate action by the multilateral body in responding to the Covid crisis and ensuring greater availability of vaccines and other medical products in poor and developing countries, as it called on the multilateral institution to adopt a “people-first approach” to trade.

G-33 members must work together for fair, balanced outcome at WTO: Piyush Goyal
Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal (Reuters)

Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal on Sunday asked the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to find a permanent solution to the long-pending issue of public-stockholding for food security. In his intervention at the plenary session of the WTO’s 12th ministerial conference (MC) in Geneva, he also asked advanced fishing nations to take on the responsibility of slashing their massive dole-outs that have resulted in the over-exploitation of the world’s fish stocks.

India slammed inadequate action by the multilateral body in responding to the Covid crisis and ensuring greater availability of vaccines and other medical products in poor and developing countries, as it called on the multilateral institution to adopt a “people-first approach” to trade.

While Goyal didn’t explicitly mention India’s 2020 proposal at the WTO for an intellectual property rights waiver for Covid-19 vaccines, drugs and diagnostic devices to better fight the pandemic globally, he said: “My country ramped up supplies of medical products…globally. Unfortunately, the WTO could not respond with alacrity. We have let down the people of the LDCs (least developing countries) and developing countries. The rich countries need to introspect! We need to bow our heads in shame for our inability to respond to the pandemic in time.”

The proposal — floated jointed by India and South Africa — has faced stiff resistance mainly from the EU, the UK and Switzerland, although the US, after initial reluctance, endorsed a waiver.

Goyal asserted that, before moving on to newer areas of discussion, the WTO must find a permanent remedy to the crucial issue of public stock-holding for food security, which “should be the topmost priority for MC12”, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

India’s key procurement programmes are protected from penal provisions under a peace clause secured at the WTO’s Bali ministerial in 2013 (its permanent status was affirmed in late 2014). But a lasting solution would ensure this protection gets further bolstered and the disputes settlement mechanism of the WTO won’t consider appeal of any nation in this regard.

Amid demand by advanced fishing nations that others, too, give greater commitment to reduce harmful fishery subsidies, Goyal made it clear that the right to life and livelihood of millions of Indian fishermen, who have been undertaking only subsistence fishing, “cannot be curtailed in any manner”.

“On the contrary, those nations responsible for depleted fish-stocks should assume responsibility, having exploited the oceans for far too long by giving subsidies (to their fishermen),” he said.

Goyal criticised the propensity of “mindless and destructive consumption” and highlighted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for sustainable living through “Lifestyle For Environment” (LiFE), a movement aimed at promoting a lifestyle that is in sync with nature.

Goyal stressed that it’s necessary to keep “development at its core” while reforming the WTO system, and any outcome must be “decided through a precise, transparent and inclusive process, upholding the basic principles and objectives of the WTO, particularly consensus-based decision making and special and differential treatment for developing countries”.

India, he said, strongly believes that the WTO should not negotiate rules on non-trade-related subjects, including climate change and gender, which legitimately fall within the domain of other inter-governmental organisations.

“In conclusion, let me say that when the world is facing severe challenges and expects the WTO to deliver solutions, the MC12 must send a strong message that the rich care for the poor, vulnerable and marginalised people and that we have come together to give them a better future,” he said.

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