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India has pitched for a permanent solution to the food security issue at the WTO meet in Marrakesh as it assumes "tremendous importance" to the country and several other developing nations, the commerce and industry ministry said today. The issue was raised by Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu at the informal World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial gathering in Marrakesh, Morocco, on October 9-10. "He emphasised that a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes must be a part of the outcomes achieved, as this is an issue of tremendous importance not only to India but also several other developing countries," the ministry said in a statement. Prabhu stated that a solution on this issue would give a strong signal of determination to end hunger and achieve food security, as mandated in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2. The minister also called for cutting "disproportionately" large subsidies given by developed countries to their farmers, it added. Further emphasising on the importance of special and differential treatment given to developing countries in the WTO, the minister said India "would be willing to engage on proposals that recognised this right for all developing countries without exception". He has stated that in India, about 600 million people are dependent on agriculture and nearly 98 per cent of the farmers here are in low income or resource poor and mostlyengaged in subsistence farming. "Under such circumstances, it was imperative for India to balance trade liberalisation with the need to protect the livelihood of its farmers," he said. Prabhu also called for continuation of the reform process in agri sector and to avoid further widening and perpetuation of the imbalance between developed and developing countries. On introduction of new issues being pushed by the rich economies for discussion in the WTO, Prabhu called upon WTO members to first deal with the issues which were already under negotiation, before moving on to new ones. Developed countries, including the US, are pushing for inclusion of certain new issues like investment facilitation and e-commerce. Referring to the issue of fisheries subsidies, the commerce minister asked the members to make a clear distinction between large scale commercial fishing and traditional fishing. In India a large number of small, largely resource poor fish workers depended on traditional fishing activity as a source of livelihood. "Developing countries like India, possessing very low fishing capacity, would also need to retain policy space to promote and create such capacity," he added. Prabhu also talked about the importance of a transparent and inclusive process of negotiations at the WTO. He pressed for completing all preparatory work before the 11th ministerial conference in Argentina in December. This would help in taking up matured issues for conclusion. This informal WTO ministerial meeting was held in preparation for the 11th ministerial conference. Ministers and delegates of 35 WTO member countries exchanged views on "what could be realistically achieved and the possibilities for compromise," the ministry said. It said the objective of the gathering was to provide political impetus to the negotiations and guidance on potential outcomes. The food security issue concerns several developing nations which provide subsidised food grains to the poor. India's Food Security Act entitles 82 crore people to 5 kg of foodgrains per person a month at Rs 1-3 per kg.
The country needs 62 million tonnes foodgrains a year to implement the law. For a permanent solution, India had proposed either amending the formula to calculate the food subsidy cap of 10 per cent, which is based on the reference price of 1986-88, or allowing such schemes outside the purview of subsidy caps. There is a peace clause till a permanent solution is found for the food stockpiling issue. Under this clause, no country can drag another WTO member if it crosses the food subsidy cap of 10 per cent. 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.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)