India opposes Singapore’s proposal to exempt WFP purchases from export restrictions

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on November 12, 2020

Wants WTO to base new negotiations on domestic support on ‘support per farmer’

India is fighting against a proposal made by Singapore at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on exempting exports made under the World Food Programme (WFP) from export restrictions for humanitarian purposes and signing a pact next month, a Geneva-based official has said.

At the WTO Committee on Agriculture meeting on Wednesday, New Delhi also proposed that the new negotiations on domestic support must be based on a “support per farmer” basis instead of being defined in aggregate terms, the official told BusinessLine.

Singapore laid out its plan of submitting a draft decision for the General Council to adopt in its December meeting that would exempt WFP’s non-commercial purchases for humanitarian purposes from any export restrictions.

Justifying its proposal, Singapore said the exemption was required by December and not deferred till June 2021 as an estimated 3.5 million people were likely to die over the next few months due to the unprecedented severe hunger problem that was worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, if an agreement on the issue is reached, all members, including India, will lose their sovereign right of putting in place any form of export restrictions for supplies to WFP despite domestic compulsions.

“The proposal received support from about 30 nations. India was the only country that actively opposed it,” the official said.

India pointed that export restriction was an important tool to ensure food security within the country and protect the poor. It could exempt WFP purchases from export restrictions on the case-by-case basis, it said.

Members that supported Singapore included the US, the EU, China, Japan, South Korea, Ukraine, Indonesia, Canada, Vanuatu, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and China, among others.

In the discussions on domestic support, India said the new negotiations must be based on a “support per farmer” basis, and not on aggregate terms. It offered to work on a technical paper, with other members who are interested, on how domestic support per farmer could be calculated.

New Delhi's proposal is important to bring about a level playing field for countries like India that may have a considerable amount of subsidy outgo but which is mainly because of its large population.

The next Ministerial meeting of the WTO may take place in June 2021.

Published on November 12, 2020

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