Postponement of WTO ministerial meet gives India a chance to push for balance in farm talks

Amiti Sen | | Updated on: Nov 28, 2021
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Country working on permanent solution to the public stockholding issue

The postponement of the WTO Ministerial Conference due to the spread of ‘Omicron’, the new, highly contagious, Covid-19 variant, has given India a much needed breather to get its act together for the on-going farm negotiations.

Just a day before the announcement, India had accused the Chair of the agriculture committee of “ditching” the important issue of public stockholding in her latest draft text, according to Geneva-based trade officials.

A breather for India

India had also said that it was giving “one last chance” to the Chair to rectify the text, but with the indefinite postponement of the MC12, New Delhi has more time to argue its case and ensure that interests of developing countries get aptly reflected in the draft. The final draft will be presented to trade ministers for their views and consent when the ministerial conference takes place.

“At the meeting of the agriculture committee on November 25, India expressed its anger and disappointment over the chair not including the proposal made by it and the G-33 group of developing countries on public stockholding in the revised draft. It also warned the chair that the draft, unless revised further to include the G-33’s perspective, could derail the agriculture negotiations before the MC12 started,” the official said.

Now that the MC12, initially scheduled to be held from November 30-December 3 in Geneva, is likely to be held much later, India can consolidate its position, get all like-minded countries together, and further push for its interests, another official said.

India, China and the G-33 group have been pressing for a permanent solution to the problem faced by developing countries as subsidies provided for public stock holding, including MSP (minimum support price) programmes for crops, are included in the category of trade distorting support at the WTO. These subsidies are to be maintained within a fixed ceiling of 10 per cent of the value of production. India and the G-33 have been fighting for the flexibility to give higher MSP. India, China and G-33 are demanding that a permanent solution, that would cover a larger number of farm products and not involve numerous notifications, should be delivered at the WTO MC12 in Geneva. India had negotiated an interim “peace clause” in 2013 to protect developing nations from being legally challenged if the subsidies for public stockholding went beyond the ceiling.

However, as most developed countries did not show any inclination to grant a permanent solution at the meet, the Chair decided to keep it out of the Indonesia, representing the G-33 group, also insisted that its new proposal on a permanent solution needed to be placed before Ministers. The G-33’s call was backed by the African Group, the ACP group, India and China. Indonesia and China expressed their disappointment with the text and said that it was a step backward and also had nothing to offer to the LDCs as a permanent solution.

Non-proponents, such as Australia, Canada and Costa Rica said that the proponents did not do enough to address doubts raised by other members on their proposal and needed to also take the blame for the issue of public stockholding being ignored.

Published on November 28, 2021

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