The WTO is considering the option of putting off a decision on a permanent solution on public stockholding (PSH) for food security, being championed by India and many developing countries, till the next Ministerial Conference (MC14), probably in 2026, in case differences between members don’t get resolved at MC13 next month.

“India, together with the G33 developing countries group, the African Group and the ACP Group, however, are continuing to emphasise standalone outcomes on PSH and special safeguard measure at MC13,” per a Geneva-based trade official. The MC13 is scheduled on February 26-29 in Abu Dhabi.

Permanent solution

A permanent solution to PSH is important to India and many other developing countries as it would legitimise higher subsidies for stockholding programmes such as the MSP, right now subject to a cap of 10 per cent of value of production. A peace clause agreed to at the Bali Ministerial Conference of 2013 gives many developing countries, including India, immunity against legal action from other members in case the PSH subsidies exceed the limit. But it is riddled with many conditions and developing nations want the legitimacy to be built into the WTO Agreement on Agriculture.

On Tuesday, the WTO Committee on Agriculture’s Chair circulated a draft negotiation text on a possible agreement on agricultural issues at MC13 which members agreed to recognise as a basis for further discussion, although many said it was not perfect, the official said.

Two options

“The draft negotiating text presents two options on PSH. The first is a permanent solution based on a proposal made by the G33, the African Group and the ACP Group, while the second involves setting parameters for continuous discussion to reach a permanent solution at MC14,” the official added.

India and about 80 other developing nations have been insisting on an agreement on PSH, separate from other agricultural issues, as mandated in the Nairobi Ministerial Conference in 2015. They are disappointed that while a permanent solution was mandated in 2017 at the Bali Ministerial, it was yet to be delivered in 2024.

New Delhi warned members that they should not fall into the trap of pushing everything to MC14 and said that the joint proposal of developing nations should be used as the basis for negotiations on PSH. “India said that it was still possible to decide on PSH as was demonstrated by the experience of the Bali Ministerial Conference where the `peace clause’ proposal was tabled just a few weeks before the meeting,” the official said.