India has said that the WTO’s draft negotiating text on agriculture was a ‘mistake’ and demanded its withdrawal as it did not include key proposals made by developing nations, including those on public stockholding and special safeguard mechanism, vital for a more balanced agreement.

“At the WTO Committee on Agriculture meeting on Monday, a number of developing and least-developed countries and groups, including the African Group, the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (the ACP Group) and the G33 group, continued to oppose the draft text and sought a review,” a Geneva-based trade official told BusinessLine.

Attempts are on at the WTO to push forward negotiations in areas such as agriculture, fisheries subsidies and a proposed temporary waiver of intellectual property norms on vaccines and medications that were on top of the agenda of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) scheduled late last year. The Ministerial was indefinitely postponed due to the Covid-19 situation but the WTO is attempting to conclude negotiations in the identified areas nonetheless.

MSP, stockholding cap

The draft text on agriculture was circulated by the chair of the CoA prior to the scheduled MC12 with proposed deliverables on 7 negotiation topics including domestic support, market access, export competition, export restriction, cotton, public stockholding for food security purposes and a special safeguard mechanism.

India had clearly stated at the WTO even before the MC12 was postponed that the draft negotiating text on agriculture was unacceptable as it ignored the primary demands of developing nations. These include provisions to ensure that countries can continue with their minimum support price and public stockholding programmes for food without worrying about caps and adequate safeguards to check escalation in imports of items.

Objections to the draft

Re-emphasising its objection to the draft, which was taken up for discussion at the CoA meeting on Monday, India said that the text did not have either the right balance or the consensus of members and hence should be shelved.

The African Group, the ACP and the G33 group of developing countries and LDCs, too, expressed similar views and asked for a more balanced version that could taken on board more elements from their proposals. China expressed solidarity with this group and also put its weight behind a review.

India, through its own proposals and as part of the G33 group, has been seeking a permanent solution for rules on public stock holding that would allow subsidies for such programmes, including minimum support prices for farm produce, to be provided without the present limit of up to 10 per cent the value of produce. Although a peace clause has been agreed to which gives immunity to India and other developing countries against legal action in case the subsidy caps are breached, it is subject to various difficult conditions including onerous notification obligations.

Developing nations have also been demanding a special safeguard mechanism that would permit them to impose import restrictions if there is surge in import of an agricultural item or a decline in its price resulting in loss of livelihood of farmers in the country and a threat to food security.