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India will stay firm on agri, food issues at WTO, says Commerce Secretary

Rita Teaotia said speaking about equitable trade for developing countries will be on her agenda at the forthcoming WTO meeting in Kenya

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

India will stay firm on agri, food issues at WTO, says Commerce Secretary

India will stay firm on agricultural issues including public stockholding of food crops for food security and generous trade concessions to least developed countries (LDCs) at the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Nairobi, Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said on Thursday.

Speaking at an interaction on WTO organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Teaotia said India’s stance on trade policies involving agriculture, food and market access would remain unchanged at the 10th ministerial conference between December 15 and 18.

She also pitched for more equitable trade policies for developing countries and LDCs. “The emergence of regional, multilateral trading blocs are partly due to frustration with WTO policies that countries face,” she said. Recently, the top trade body said the regional trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, were complementary — and not a substitute for — the multilateral trading system.

Teaotia, however, said the meeting should be considered crucial since it will act as the “plurilateral bedrock of India’s trade engagement with the international community”.

Developed countries at WTO including the United States, Canada, Australia and European Union oppose public stockholding of food crops and want India to cap the Minimum Support Price (MSP) paid to farmers as well as limit input subsidies for fertiliser, seed, pesticides and irrigation.

India had accepted a Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2014, allowing it to maintain its food buffer stocks till a permanent solution was found. But it still cannot export subsidised food because of opposition from developed countries accusing it distorting market prices. Teaotia pointed out that the same countries also refuse to lower high levels of targeted agricultural subsidies provided to their farmers. She said policy instruments protecting domestic farmers could not be done away with, adding that India will push for the creation of a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) in agriculture for developing countries.

SSM, which allows countries to temporarily raise tariffs to deal with surging imports and subsequent price falls, will be modelled on the existing Special (Agricultural) Safeguards (SSGs) used by rich counties.

Both issues were earlier mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He had highlighted the growing need for equitable trade policies for LDCs and developing countries.

Teaotia also stressed on securing a better trade package for LDCs which constitute the majority of countries.

She accused the developed countries of shying away from Doha Round after pushing the developing world into negotiations 14 years ago. The furthering of the Doha Development Agenda, which aimed at better tariffs and easier trade conditions for LDCs, was a major priority for India, Teaotia said.

Diverse country groups at the WTO such as the G-33, African bloc, Afro-Caribbean bloc and most recently the G-20 have reached consensus on most issues that were part of the Doha Development Round.

However, little has been achieved so far. The first draft by WTO ahead of the ministerial conference has ignored India’s prime concerns about agriculture, food policies and the rush of regional trade agreements.

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First Published: Fri, December 04 2015. 00:30 IST