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India may agree on pact after 'assurance' on food security

Negotiations are learnt to have taken place in Geneva to nudge India to sign the Protocol of Amendment

Nayanima Basu  |  New Delhi 

In a possible change of stance, India might finally relent on the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) trade facilitation agreement (TFA), provided it gets an “assurance” from 160 member countries, especially the developed nations, that issues concerning food security would be addressed along with TFA.

Meanwhile, the WTO General Council has decided to take up issues concerning the Bali package, particularly TFA, at its meeting on Friday. The General Council, the highest decision-making body of WTO, is meeting in Geneva on Thursday and Friday.

According to a high-ranking official present in Geneva, there was “visible change of stance in India’s position” on Thursday during the General Council meet, even as hectic negotiations behind closed doors took place to nudge India into signing the Protocol of Amendment that would make TFA a legal framework.

“India has not said no to TFA. India will block it, unless its concerns regarding food security and public stockholding are addressed. The two are not the same,” another official, asking not to be named, told Business Standard.

The bone of contention, according to officials, is that work on TFA has advanced more rapidly than that on food security. Apart from that, India has never raised any objection to the trade facilitation agreement.

Apparently, the same message was communicated to Indian ambassador to WTO Anjali Prasad last evening, though the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs did not take an official position on the issue. This is somewhat similar to what happened during the conclusion of the G20 trade ministers meeting in Sydney last week.

Prasad is also learnt to have spoken to Commerce Secretary Rajeev Kher to firm up the country’s stance on the issue.

According to Keith Rockwell, director of WTO’s Information and External Relations Division, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo met Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman twice on the sidelines of the G-20 meet. “Azevêdo held no conversation (over telephone) with Sitharaman or any other Indian official on Wednesday. He (last) met with her in Sydney,” Rockwell added.

However, India does not seem to be winning friends in this issue. Several officials that Business Standard spoke to indicated the developed countries were not willing to link the two issues because the consensus reached during the Bali Ministerial was that issues concerning food security and public stockholding would be taken up later, as the deadline for that is 2017. By comparison, if TFA gets converted into a legal document, it will be opened up for a year for all members to ratify it for implementation by July 31, 2015.

A statement made by Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Pakistan and other developing countries, meanwhile, said: “A decision to step away (from TFA) will be in no one’s interest. It will undermine the ability of WTO to deliver for the future.”

First Published: Fri, July 25 2014. 00:57 IST
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