India returns empty handed from Nairobi Ministerial

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on January 22, 2018


No breakthrough in areas of food, farmer security; to phase out export subsidies by 2023

The World Trade Organisation’s Ministerial in Nairobi failed to deliver anything concrete for India and other developing countries in the areas of food security and farmer protection.

Worse, it has saddled them with the burden of doing away with all export subsidies in the next eight years, and all but ended the development framework of the Doha Round within which negotiations have been taking place.

“Without the Doha framework and an explicit reaffirmation of the Doha Development Agenda, developing countries will never be in a position again in the WTO to negotiate the agenda to their benefit,” pointed out Biraj Patnaik from the Right to Food campaign.

No definite agreement was reached in the area of special safeguards mechanism (SSM) for protecting developing country farmers against import surges that India was pushing for.

All that the Nairobi Declaration, adopted on Saturday, says is that the SSM negotiations will continue in the older format (Hong Kong Ministerial) where it is not linked to giving additional market access. There is no clarity on how, or by when, the 2008 deadlock with the US on the issue will be broken.

2008 deadlock

“In 2008, the WTO talks in Geneva broke down as an irreconcilable position was reached between the US and India over what would be the trigger the use of SSMs by developing countries.

“What is the guarantee at this point that talks will move forward from there,” wondered trade expert Biswajit Dhar from Jawaharlal Nehru University. On public food stockholding, too, where India had demanded a permanent solution in Nairobi, the Declaration just talks about meetings to be held in an “accelerated time frame” to arrive at a permanent solution.

Against just a mention of SSM and food stockholding in the Nairobi Declaration, India was made to agree to an export competition pact that will end as early as 2023 New Delhi’s flexibility to offer export subsidies for transport and marketing purposes. This means India will not have the option of giving export subsidies for sugar or other items after eight years.

Moreover, the agreement on export competition gives the US the liberty to continue with its export credit programmes and food aid. “The threat of commercial disposal of international surpluses through food aid has been ignored,” Dhar said.

With the Nairobi Declaration explicitly stating that there is no consensus on continuation of the Doha Development Agenda, the stage seems set for the introduction of new issues, including investment, competition policy and government procurement, which means new battle fronts for India.

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Published on December 20, 2015
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