India to seek permanent solution for food procurement and stockholding at WTO

India will push for a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes at the four-day ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva, starting from November 30. It will also seek a special safeguard mechanism (SSM), along the lines of the one available to developed countries, to protect its farmers from any irrational spike in imports.

A number of submissions are being made at the WTO for advancing negotiations in agriculture. India along with the G33 group of nations has been engaging in achieving a permanent solution to the public stockholding issue.

India’s key procurement programmes are already adequately protected for perpetuity from penal provisions under the peace clause, which was first secured at the WTO’s Bali ministerial in 2013 (its permanent status was affirmed in late 2014). The clause came into existence after all members had agreed not to drag the country to the WTO dispute mechanism even if its subsidy ceiling in food procurement is breached.

However, India has been trying to find a permanent solution to this so that even if a member nation reneges on its promise, the disputes settlement mechanism of the WTO won’t consider its appeal, analysts said.

The latest move comes following a deadlock over a permanent solution to the issue of public procurement for food security at the ongoing 11th ministerial conference, as the US retreated from its commitment at the Nairobi ministerial in 2015 to work towards finding a permanent solution on it by December 2017.

Under the WTO norms, a member’s food subsidy bill should not exceed the limit of 10% of the value of production based on the reference price of 1986-88. India has been pitching for a revision of this formula, as it fears the rule can potentially impair its ability to scale up its procurement programme substantially to ensure food security to a larger section of its population, most of whom are poor.

India has invoked the clause for its rice procurement in 2018-19 and 2019-20, as its subsidy level hit 13% and 11%, respectively.

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