Need permanent WTO system for grain stockholding: India
Indian Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has called upon WTO members to find a "permanent and lasting" solution on public stockholding of grains for food security programmes.
Speaking at the Graduate Institute here on Tuesday, she said a successful resolution of this issue without any undue concessions, compromise or unreasonable conditions would send out a strong signal that trade openness and addressing hunger need not be in conflict.
She also said India has often been perceived as being less than enthusiastic towards new issues such as e-commerce in the negotiations and is even sometimes accused of standing in the way of the WTO's progress.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. The world is not static. Nor are the challenges and issues that affect global trade," she said, adding that "but we have good reason to be cautious".
"Now, we must take the matter forward to its logical conclusion and bring about a permanent and lasting solution so that developing countries such as India have the freedom to use food reserves to feed their poor without the threat of violating any international obligations," the minister said further.
Developed countries, including the US, are pushing for inclusion of certain new issues like investment facilitation and e-commerce in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agenda.
The minister said discussions on new issues divert attention from priority areas for which mandates exist.
"What is the rationale for new issues when agreed issues well understood and critical to the world community are languishing. In contrast, new issues are yet to be fully understood," Sitharaman added.
Procurement and public stockholding for food security are invaluable instrumentalities used in developing countries where agriculture is mainly rain-fed and markets are imperfect and not integrated. The food security issue concerns several developing nations which provide subsidised foodgrains to their poor. A peace clause exists till a permanent solution is found for the food stockpiling issue. This clause has enabled India to continue procurement and stocking of foodgrain for distribution to the poor under its food security programme without attracting any kind of action from WTO members even if it breaches the 10 per cent subsidy cap as prescribed by the multilateral trade body.
The minister said many developing countries face daunting challenges, including a stagnant farm sector, inadequate domestic food stocks and volatility in food prices in international markets.
This is an issue of interest not just for India, but for a large number of other developing countries, she said.