Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal stepped up pressure on the WTO to deliver on the long-promised permanent solution on public stockholding (PSH) for food security at the on-going 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi emphasising that the development agenda would remain incomplete without it as it was directly related to achieving Sustainable Development Goal of ‘zero hunger’ by 2030.

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“This has been and continues to be a long-pending issue since the last few decades and despite having a clear mandate agreed by us in the past MCs, finding a permanent solution on PSH remains an unaccomplished agenda on which we have to deliver in MC13,” Goyal said in his written statement at the opening ceremony of MC13 in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

Fisheries pact

The Minister also urged the WTO to deliver an equitable agreement on fisheries subsidies keeping in mind India’s sustenance fishing which addresses hunger, poverty, food and nutrition insecurity of millions of traditional fishers.

“I would like to reiterate my statement during MC12–let us not repeat the mistakes of the Uruguay Round in Agriculture in Fisheries agreement,” he said implying that burden of subsidy reduction should not fall on small-scale fishers of developing nations instead of industrial fishers mostly in developed countries.

Delegates attend the 13th WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday

Delegates attend the 13th WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday | Photo Credit: ABDEL HADI RAMAHI

US, which had categorically stated in the Committee on Agriculture meetings preceding the MC13 that an outcome on PSH in Abu Dhabi would not be possible because of divergent views, remained silent on the matter.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in her statement at the MC13, did not either talk about agriculture or food security. Instead, she chose to focus on new rules. “We have more work to do in several areas. This includes rebuilding the WTO’s ability to negotiate new rules for the new challenges that we face, such as addressing the massive disruptions from non-market policies and practices and reflecting better the interests of our workers,” she said.

The G33 group of over 40 developing countries, including India, came up with a Ministerial statement on Sunday, calling for an outcome on PSH based on the joint proposal of about 80 members, including those from the African Group and the ACP, submitted earlier.

Permanent solution

A permanent solution is important to India and many other developing countries as it would legitimise higher subsidies for stockholding programmes such as the MSP, that are 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 limited to programmes existing in 2013 and riddled with many onerous conditions. Developing nations want the legitimacy to be built into the WTO Agreement on Agriculture through a permanent solution.

On Monday, farmers group Samyukta Kisan Morcha’s ‘Quit WTO’ call was observed in 400 districts in India, according to a statement.

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The protesting farmers want India out of the WTO as they fear that it would force the government to withdraw its MSP programmes.