WTO Ministerial: Prabhu has a battle on his hands

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on January 09, 2018

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo

Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu

India to fight for a permanent solution on food security; no additional commitments on e-commerce

Commerce & Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu, who has left for Buenos Aires for the Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC 11) of the World Trade Organisation beginning on Sunday, is readying to fight a diplomatic battle to protect farmers, traders and the industry.

India, which is primarily focussed on a satisfactory permanent solution on public stock holding subsidies at the Ministerial, has decided to take the bull by the horn by organising a delegates briefing on food security at Buenos Aires to garner popular support.

“The objective behind the briefing is to draw attention to the unfairness of existing rules on agriculture that put a limit on the support developing countries can extend to its farmers through minimum support prices. We want to mobilise public opinion in favour of removing such limits,” a government official told BusinessLine.

The meeting, scheduled on Monday, will be addressed by Prabhu and possibly representatives from other Asian and African countries.

Deborah James from Our World is Not for Sale, a civil society organisation fighting for rights for the poor, will also give a presentation.

“A permanent solution to the problem of public stock holding (which goes beyond the peace clause already negotiated) is a matter of sheer survival and livelihood for hundreds of millions of people in the world, particularly Asia and Africa. WTO has to respond credibly to this issue,” said Abhijit Das, Head, Centre for WTO Studies.

Political implications

With major States going to polls and the ruling BJP already gearing up for the next Lok Sabha elections scheduled in 2019, the Centre also is keen to project that no decisions will be taken on the trade front that go against the interests of farmers and traders — two major vote banks for the party.

“Any wrong step at the WTO, which could be projected by the Opposition as going against the interests of poor farmers and traders, could be suicidal for the ruling party. India, therefore, will be extremely careful in Buenos Aires and try not to come under pressure from developed countries in areas such as e-commerce and domestic farm subsidies and fisheries subsidies,” the official said.

No to e-comm

India, therefore, has already said no to taking on additional commitments in e-commerce including starting preparations for negotiations on rules.

“India’s trading community, which is under stress due to competition from e-commerce companies, would be unforgiving if the country agrees to negotiate rules at the multilateral forum to make the going easier for foreign companies,” the official said.

Similarly, New Delhi has said that it is not yet ready to commit to paring fisheries subsidies as a large number of artisanal farmers are dependent on such subsidies and the country has to move with care.

The MC 11 will kick off on Sunday evening with the Chairperson proposing the adoption of the Agenda and the Chairman of the General Council making a statement.

President of Argentina Mauricio Macri and the Director-General of WTO Roberto Azevedo will also give their statements in the opening session.

The plenary session will start on December 11 where Trade Ministers from all 164 member countries will get the chance to project their views.

The closing session is scheduled on December 13 evening before which member countries are expected to agree on pacts in areas identified in the agenda which would be reflected in the Ministerial Declaration.

Published on December 07, 2017

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