India will stick to its demand of prioritising a permanent solution for issue of public stockholding (PSH) or buffer stocks of foodgrains at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) without getting into the debate over whether it is the only way to ensure food security as the model has worked well for the country, a person tracking the matter has said.

“India’s Permanent Representative to the WTO recently pointed out at a General Council meeting of the multilateral body that the country’s PSH programme had helped ensure food security for 1.4 billion people, even during the pandemic period. Its usefulness as a tool to achieve food security, therefore, does not need theoretical debates and has to be recognised,” the source said.

Disappointed

New Delhi is disappointed that the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in Geneva in June 2022 failed to deliver a permanent solution to public stockholding, that would enable members like India to continue their Minimum Support Price (MSP) programmes for food items without worrying about breaching caps and inviting legal action from members. 

Although there is a peace clause in place that stops members from taking action against developing countries in case the present cap of 10 per cent of production value is breached, it is subject to numerous conditions including onerous notification requirements.

India’s continued firm stand on a permanent solution is important as WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala suggested last month that a members’ retreat in September could be organised in order to brainstorm on how to rejuvenate the agricultural negotiations.

‘No urgency shown’

 New Delhi has been saying time and again that till all the pending matters flowing from the earlier rounds, including finding a permanent solution to PSH, are sorted out, progress in other areas of the agriculture negotiations would be difficult. “While at the Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013 it was decided that a permanent solution would be reached by 2017-end, there seems to be no urgency even in 2022. Some countries are now trying to dilute the situation by urging India to hold discussions on the technicalities of PSH,” the source said.

At a Committee on Agriculture meeting soon after the MC12 in June this year, Uruguay noted that several like-minded members had requested consultations and technical discussions with India the previous month on the Bali Decision on public stockholding programme for food security purposes. The US, Paraguay, Thailand, Australia, Japan, and Canada said they co-sponsored the consultation request.

At the GC meeting, India’s representative said the proof of the pudding was in the eating and not only had the PSH helped provide food security for 1.4 billion, even during a crisis period of the last two years, but it has also enabled it to help countries in need who had approached India for bilateral support for food security in their country.

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