Draft of 2008 holds solution to issue, says Commerce Ministry official

India will push for complete exclusion of subsidies given under public stock holding programmes from the category of actionable subsidies at the World Trade Organisation, a senior Commerce Ministry official said.

This is part of the country’s efforts to quell apprehensions in certain quarters regarding its ‘reconciliatory’ stand at the Bali Ministerial on its food subsidy programme.

The ‘permanent solution’ to the issue of subsidies for public stock holding breaching given caps will soon be negotiated by WTO members. India has managed to get only an interim reprieve from legal action against such breaches at the recently concluded Ministerial Meeting in Bali.

The solution already exists as part of the draft that was worked out at the WTO meeting of 2008, said Rajiv Kher, Additional Secretary, and India’s chief negotiator at the WTO.

Data sharing

“It says that on account of public stockholding, whatever amounts of subsidy go beyond de minimis (the subsidy cap fixed at 10 per cent of total production), it will be excluded from the Aggregate Measurement of Support (actionable subsidies),” Kher said.

This means, if the country’s stockholding subsidies go beyond de minimis, the value by which it goes beyond the limit will be excluded from the calculations, he explained.

On the issue of whether India should have taken on the onerous commitment to provide data on agriculture production and stock holding programmes, Commerce Secretary S.R. Rao said that most of the information was already publicly available.

“About 90 per cent of the information that we have agreed to provide is already in the public domain. We can also use the Right to Information Act to get any information we want these days,” Rao said.

On the issue of Trade Facilitation, where the developed countries have managed to get an agreement in place at the Bali Ministerial, Kher said that India has agreed to most of the important provisions on a best endeavour basis and has refused to take binding commitments.

The trade facilitation pact aims at cutting down bottlenecks on facilitating movement of goods across borders and reducing transaction time, by putting in place commitments for upgrading infrastructure and reducing paperwork.

“As opposed to the 12-15 legal amendments that we would have had to bring about if the original proposal of the developed countries was agreed to, we now have to make only two to three legal amendments as the text has been considerably watered down,” Kher added.

The chief negotiator, however, did not elaborate on the areas where India would have to bring about legal amendments on account of the commitments undertaken at Bali.

WTO members reached an agreement on a limited pact at the Bali Ministerial, including an agreement on Trade Facilitation and a ‘peace clause’ that promises no action against developing countries for breaching the farm subsidies limit till 2017, by when a permanent solution is expected to be worked out.

amiti.sen@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 16, 2013)
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