India has questioned the rationale of joint statements issued by some countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO) pushing for greater opening of markets for agricultural products. It has argued that for developing countries, export restrictions are a tool to prevent domestic shortages and are essential.

The country made a case against permanent tariff concessions or a dilution of the tariff bindings at a special meeting of the Committee on Agriculture (CoA) in Geneva recently. “Members reviewed a number of farm-support packages and export-restrictive measures adopted as response to the Covid-19 crisis,” a trade official in Geneva told BusinessLine .

While India asked other countries to formulate a “balanced, inclusive and calibrated” response to Covid-19, it disagreed with the idea of permanent tariff concessions, or a dilution of the tariff bindings as a response to a temporary crisis.

New Delhi also warned about a growing narrative that seeks to prohibit the use of export restrictions on medical and agricultural products. "For developing countries, export restrictions are a WTO-consistent policy tool that are important to prevent critical domestic shortages of essential supplies," India said.

A recent Canada-led joint statement, a new Cairns Group initiative and an Ottawa Group statement, all made a case for open and predictable trade amidst the Covid-19 crisis.

Australia, Chile, Japan, Norway, Brazil, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Columbia, Russia and Jamaica expressed their full support for Canada’ s joint statement, in which the co-sponsors vowed to refrain from imposing trade-restrictive measures that would ultimately have a negative impact on the food security, nutrition and health of members and their populations.

The new Cairns group proposal presented by Australia stated that Covid-19 export restrictive measures should be “targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary and consistent with the WTO rules”.

It recommended greater WTO scrutiny of Covid-19 agriculture-support measures — including tracking by the WTO secretariat, regular CoA discussions and a voluntary, member-driven WTO Covid-19 Agricultural Working Group.

Questions were also targeted at the US’s $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, launched in April 2020, including $16 billion in direct support to farmers and ranchers.