India faces WTO heat to exempt food for humanitarian needs from export curbs

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on February 26, 2020

Many WTO members want the proposal to be adopted at the Kazakhstan Ministerial meet in June

New Delhi has been resisting move as it could compromise food security

India is under pressure to give its approval to the World Food Programme (WFP) initiative at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that would exempt food purchases for humanitarian purposes from export restrictions as most other members have given it a go-ahead, an official close to the development has said.

“New Delhi has been objecting to the programme on the grounds that the move could restrict its policy, but now efforts are on at the WTO to bring the country on board through targeted consultations,” a Genva-based official told BusinessLine.

At a recent meeting of the Committee on Agriculture of the WTO, the chairperson noted that India was the only member hesitant to give the green light to the WFP initiative.

Many WTO members want the WFP to be adopted at the next Ministerial meet in Kazakhstan in June.

First proposed by Singapore

It was Singapore that had initially come up with the proposal to exempt food purchases made for humanitarian purposes from export restrictions.

In its paper on the impact of export prohibitions on foodstuffs, Singapore said the move leads to inefficiencies in humanitarian food assistance delivery, longer food delivery time, higher risk of food being lost due to transportation, increased administrative, transportation and distribution costs and, ultimately, fewer beneficiaries receiving food from the WFP.

India’s counter view has been that export restrictions were vital for handling sudden shocks in domestic food supply and losing the policy space could affect food security.

“The policy for no restrictions on exports can apply to the food-aid component. It can’t be a blanket export ban that India may decide to apply to a commodity to safeguard the interest of its population. WTO cannot be allowed to constrict our policy space,” said Biswajit Dhar, Professor, JNU.

On the issue of other ‘achievables’ at the Kazakhstan meeting, China, India, the African Group and African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States insisted that priority should be given to addressing the most trade-distorting form of farm subsidies, known in WTO parlance as Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS), beyond the permissible levels.

Published on February 26, 2020

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