Deal with US Ends WTO Impasse on Food, Says India Minister, Giving No Details


Announcing an end Thursday to the impasse over the WTO accord to ease global customs rules, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said after an agreement has been reached with the US on the issue of food stockpiling.

The deal opens the way to implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) which had eluded the World Trade Organisation members in July, she added.

India has asked for a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes and not a restricted period of four years as was originally decided during the WTO ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia last year.

“Point of difference was there (with the US) that the Bali agreement was imperfect, which had to be corrected. It’s a course correction that we wanted… We’re moving forward in a constructive manner,” she said.

Without making them public for the moment, Sitharaman said India’s proposals would now be put forward to the WTO General Council for approval.

The minister said many nations saw merit in India’s stand at the WTO and that the US has also “appreciated and now openly supported our concerns on public stockholding. India has never obstructed trade facilitation. We were only trying to safeguard our farmer’s interests”.

India has been under pressure from several countries, particularly the US, to drop its objections to the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

India’s objections are on the WTO limits on agriculture subsidies at 10 percent of the total value of foodgrain production, and on stockpiling foodgrain. Complying with the country’s Food Security Act passed last year that guarantees subsidised foodgrains to around 70 percent of the population could result in breaching these limits leading to penalties for India.

At Bali, the ministers also agreed, by what is called the “peace clause”, that till 2017 no country can move the dispute settlement body of the WTO against another member if its government was found to be breaching the level of subsidy freeze that was permitted.

“Please extend the peace clause and find us a permanent solution. Do not make us wait till 2017. These are legitimate demands,” Sitharaman had said here Sunday.

Earlier, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said at a conference here that the peace clause was due to disappear in four years time but India wanted that “the decision on settlement of disputes and the peace clause should co-exist”.

“The WTO is in the best interest of developing countries, especially the poorest and most marginalised ones among them, and we are determined to work to strengthen this institution,” Sitharaman said in a statement Thursday.

“This (deal with US) will end the impasse at the WTO and also open the way for implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement,” she added.

Without making India’s proposals public for the moment, Sitharaman urged the WTO members to take them forward at the body’s General Council.

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