India is trying to restart work at the WTO on the long-pending permanent solution for public stockholding subsidies, for smooth running of programmes such as the MSP, after the recent Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi failed to deliver results, but some countries, including Brazil and the US, are trying to defer the matter, sources have said.

In a Committee on Agriculture (CoA) meeting on Tuesday at the WTO headquarters in Geneva, New Delhi insisted that members should revisit the joint proposal made by G33-African Group-ACP Group on public stockholding, which elaborates on what an acceptable permanent solution could be, and said that negotiations on the matter should conclude first without it being linked to negotiations on domestic support, a Geneva-based official said.

“India said it was deeply disappointed by the fact that a permanent solution on public stockholding could not be agreed to at MC13 and said members should urgently honour the mandate on the matter pending since the 2013 Bali Ministerial Decision,” the official said.

The Bali interim solution on public stockholding offers India and other developing nations a peace clause which allows them to breach the WTO prescribed agriculture subsidy limit (10 per cent of value of production) without the risk of legal action from other members.

Last month, India invoked the peace clause for the fifth time for breaching the subsidy limit on rice in 2022-23. 

Permanent solution

India and several other developing countries are still insisting on a permanent solution as the peace clause is ridden with difficult conditions and onerous notification requirements, leaving them open to questions and even disputes. 

New Delhi pointed out at the meeting that food security was national security and since only 17 per cent of food production in the world was actually traded, trade alone could not ensure food security of developing nations. 

“India emphasised that its own experience of feeding a large population and protecting livelihoods of millions of poor farmers testified to the success of the public stockholding programmes,” the source said.

Brazil’s proposal

Brazil, which came up with a proposal suggesting a timeline and review process that would serve as checkpoints to assess the progress of the agriculture negotiations leading up to the next Ministerial, deferred the permanent solution until MC14 in 2026.

“Brazil’s handling of the public stockholding matter in its agriculture proposal led to protests from several members which give priority to a permanent solution. This included members of the African Group, G33 developing members (including China and India), and countries from the African, Pacific and Caribbean regions (ACP),” the official said.

The EU was open to Brazil’s suggestion on a timeline, but said that priority should be given to some issues, particularly the trade-distorting domestic support and the long-overdue matter of public stockholding.

The US expressed caution on the way forward and said that to break the stalemate, all members must engage and be willing to compromise, the official said. New Delhi, however, held on to its position that a permanent solution on public stockholding should be arrived at first before negotiations on the other agriculture pillars, including domestic support and market access.