India and China have called upon World Trade Organization (WTO) members to address long-pending concerns over public stockholding and special safeguard measures, to check against surge in farm imports, on priority, as member countries sought to bridge differences ahead of a meeting of ministers later this year.
During a special meeting on Wednesday, India highlighted the need to find a permanent solution to public stockholding of foodgrains, an issue which it fears could impact food security in developing countries, including its own ability to procure grains for public distribution programme, given the cap imposed in the agreement signed 25 years ago. While the WTO membership has agreed to a “peace clause”, which restricts any country from raising a dispute in case of a breach in the limit, India wants a final settlement, an issue that China also highlighted.
Despite their tussle, India and China have similar positions on farm trade issues at WTO, which also find an echo in the larger developing country audience. At Wednesday’s meeting, Indonesia, which is one of the key reasons for the issue still hanging fire, too seemed to be backing India’s case on food stockpiling, as it also demanded that the issue of special safeguard measures be taken up.
But despite a show of seeking to engage on pushing forward the farm trade agenda, none of the countries seemed to have changed their position. While the US did not take a firm view, according to sources in Geneva, the European Union linked the issue of public stockholding to reforms in the domestic farm support architecture, something that the government has objected to in the past, arguing that the developed countries have extracted their pound of flesh by getting countries such as India to sign the trade facilitation agreement.
For the developed countries, the old Doha round issues of fixing trade-distorting farm subsidies, opening their doors to overseas professionals through more ambitious reforms of services sector and reworking some of the elements of the agreements that are detrimental to the interests of the poor and developing countries have now gone off the radar, as they push for global rules on 21st Century issues such as investment facilitation, e-commerce and women in trade. The challenge before the new WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is to bridge the differences. In an interview to TOI, she had acknowledged that there was a huge trust deficit between the members.
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