• | 11:30 am

India pushes for permanent solution on food security at WTO ministerial

Issue of public stock holding of grains directly related to achieving sustainable development goal of zero hunger by 2030, Piyush Goyal says

India pushes for permanent solution on food security at WTO ministerial
[Source photo: WTO]

India is pushing for a permanent solution to public stock holding of grains for food security at the ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi that began on Monday.

In a pre-recorded address to the conference on the opening day, commerce minister Piyush Goyal said finding a permanent solution on public stockholding remains an “unaccomplished agenda on which we have to deliver.”

Goyal, who will land in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to lead the talks for India, said the issue was directly related to achieving the sustainable development goal of zero hunger by 2030.

“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 minister said finding a permanent solution on public stockholding (PSH) remains an unaccomplished agenda, and hoped that the 13th ministerial conference (MC13) will deliver on this. 

“I am confident that with the collective efforts of all of us, MC13 will engage constructively to give an outcome on long pending mandated issue of permanent solution on PSH for food security send a strong message that the world cares for the poor, vulnerable and marginalized people and that all of us have come together to give them a better future,” 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. 

The Bali ministerial conference in 2013 put a ceiling on farm subsidies, which the Indian government opposes. Arguing that subsidy beyond the ceiling was essential for its food security program, India is looking for a ‘peace clause’ in WTO rules that will make the concessions on farm subsidies permanent for countries.

The thirteenth WTO ministerial conference began in Abu Dhabi on 26 February with commerce secretary Sunil Barthwal leading the Indian delegation on the opening day. 

India told members on the opening day that mixing non-trade topics with WTO rules can lead to greater trade fragmentation, and called to avoid mixing non-trade issues.

Bringing issues like gender and MSMEs in the realm of WTO discussions was not practical because these issues were being discussed in other relevant global organizations, India said. 

India stressed that issues like inclusion are better addressed through contextual and targeted national measures and they did not fall in the domain of international trade relations, a government press release said. 

India argued that non-trade issues have the potential to encourage trade distortive subsidies and non-trade barriers.

“India firmly believes that any measures taken to combat climate change, including unilateral ones, should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade,” Goyal said in his virtual address.

Earlier, the opening session of MC13 saw the adoption of the accessions of Comoros and Timor-Leste, both least-developed countries.

In his welcoming speech to the conference, Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, minister of state for foreign trade of the United Arab Emirates and MC13 chair, stressed the historically important role the WTO has played in providing “stability, transparency, and predictability for international trade,” contributing to “raising living standards, improving employment opportunities and enabling the expansion of trade in goods and services” around the world.

The opening ceremony was attended by Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. 

WTO director general Okonjo-Iweala thanked the UAE government for organizing the conference, the second to take place in the Gulf region after Doha in 2001.

“Trade runs through this nation’s blood. The UAE testifies to how trade can improve lives and livelihoods of people and transform a small or non-diversified economy into a formidable, resilient, and prosperous one,” she said.

Recalling the successful outcome of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022 in Geneva, where 10 consensus multilateral outcomes with tangible benefits for people and the planet were achieved, Okonjo-Iweala noted that members sent a powerful signal that the organization can respond to contemporary challenges through strategic cooperation in pursuit of shared goals.

“Success is changing the tone about the WTO, both outside and within it. We will always have our naysayers and detractors but there is no doubt that members have shown that we can deliver when members roll up their sleeves and muster the requisite political will. During the last several weeks, the atmosphere in our preparatory discussions in Geneva has been more constructive and conducive than it was in the run-up to MC12,” she said.

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