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Food security, fisheries subsidies dominate WTO ministerial negotiations

India made its stand clear during the negotiations on key issues at the 13th WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi

Food security, fisheries subsidies dominate WTO ministerial negotiations
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

Negotiations on the permanent solution to public stockholding of grains and fisheries subsidies dominated day 2 of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi as India reiterated its stand on food security and fishing. 

New Delhi argued to finalize the permanent solution to public stockholding (PSH) and deliver this outcome at MC13, as this has been pending for 11 years.

During a WTO negotiation session on Agriculture on the second day of the event, India stressed that the focus should not be narrowed down to the trade interests of exporting countries only as the real concern is the food security and livelihood of people.

“India emphasized that without a permanent solution on PSH, the most critical and long-pending mandated issue at the WTO, developing countries’ fight against hunger cannot be won,” a government statement said. 

The Indian delegation recalled the three mandates on PSH from the Bali Ministerial of 2013, the General Council decision of 2014, and the Nairobi Ministerial decision of 2015.

India highlighted that the significance of this issue was so high that more than 80 countries representing more than 61% of the world’s population from the G33 group of countries, Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP), and the African Groups have co-sponsored a proposal on this subject.

India also recalled the vast differences in the actual per-farmer domestic support provided by different countries, as notified to WTO. 

“Some developed countries provide subsidies which are 200 times than the subsidies provided by the developing countries. It was the membership’s duty to ensure a level playing field in international agriculture trade for millions of low-income or resource-poor farmers,” the government statement added. 

India reiterated the preference for adopting a sequential approach, calling for the delivery of the permanent solution to the PSH and to protect the treaty-embedded special and differential treatment provision in the agreement on agriculture. 

If any discussion on the reduction of domestic support commitments takes place, the process should start with eliminating subsidies for countries that provide massive subsidies on a per capita basis, India said. 

Earlier on Monday, India’s commerce minister Piyush Goyal said finding a permanent solution on public stockholding remains an “unaccomplished agenda on which we have to deliver.”

“For India, development stands for fight against hunger and undernourishment, uplift of the poor and distressed masses, ensuring reasonable returns for low income and resource poor farmers and fishers,” Goyal said. 

The Indian government procures foodgrain such as wheat and rice at a minimum support price (MSP) and provides them to people at a subsidized rate through the public distribution system. 

WTO negotiation session on fisheries subsidies

At another WTO negotiation session, India reiterated its long-held position that responsible and sustainable fisheries is a practice ingrained in the ethos and practices of the country’s large and varied fishing community. 

Any comprehensive agreement on fisheries subsidies should keep in mind the interests and welfare of the fishing community that depends on the marine resources for their livelihood and sustenance, India said. 

India stressed that historically, while subsidies to the fisheries sector have led to over-exploitation, they are also vital for developing countries and small economies to develop and diversify their fisheries sector as well as to protect the food security and livelihood security of their fishermen. 

“India urged the members to introduce a moratorium on subsidies by distant water fishing nations for fishing or fishing-related activities beyond their EEZs (exclusive economic zones) for a period of at least 25 years,” an official statement by the government of India said.

Additional obligations in services sector

Over 70 nations including the UK, UAE, and Australia have agreed to take on additional obligations in the services sector under an agreement of the WTO, a move likely to benefit Indian companies.

Press Trust of India reported that the countries are taking the additional obligations under the General Agreement on Goods in Services (GATS) to ease non-goods trade among themselves and extend similar concessions to all other members of the WTO. 

These obligations under their schedules in GATS seek to mitigate unintended trade restrictive effects or measures relating to licensing requirements and procedures, qualification requirements and procedures, and technical standards among themselves, the report quoted an official as saying.

The move will benefit all WTO members as it is applicable on a “most-favored nation” principle.

It will also benefit Indian professional companies which will now have equal opportunity to access markets in these 70 countries, the official added.

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