As the Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11) wraps up in Buenos Aires this week, it appears that little progress has been made on several of India’s most prioritized issues.
Topping the list of issues important to India and other developing countries is the question of public stockholding for food security purposes. This has long been a stumbling block in WTO negotiations, nearly bringing the 2013 Bali Ministerial to a halt. India and the G-33 group of developing countries have argued that the WTO’s existing farm subsidy rules constrain their ability to purchase food from domestic producers at administered prices in order to ensure food security during times of shock and food crisis. Some developed countries, on the other hand, fear that stocks nominally procured for food security purposes may end up being exported and distort global trade.
The Bali Ministerial ended with the establishment of a “peace clause”, which allowed India and other developing countries to continue their food stockpiling programs until a permanent solution is found. (For further discussion, read several recommendations for such a permanent solution from Joe Glauber of IFPRI, written following the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial.) The deadline for such a permanent solution was the Eleventh Ministerial.
According to an article in The Hindu Business Line, prior to MC11, India and the G-33 highlighted the need for new food crops to be covered under any public stockholding provision and are calling for a change in the language of the Bali Decision from “traditional staple food crops” to “foodstuffs.” This proposal faced challenges from several developed countries. Disagreement also arose prior to the Ministerial regarding a proposal that any permanent public stockholding provision include a transparency requirement. This would mean that member countries would have to inform the WTO in advance if they were going to, or potentially going to, breach the WTO’s limits on public food stocks. The G-33 argued that for many developing countries, this is not feasible.
On the last day of the Ministerial, NDTV reported that no permanent agreement had been found to the public stockholding issue, largely based on a refusal by the United States to agree to a solution. The Economic Times suggests that the failure to reach an agreement on agriculture could mean failure for the Ministerial Conference as a whole.
India also remained steadfast in its calls for the agenda to continue its focus on the Doha Agenda. Several developed country members, on the other hand, have pushed for new topics to be introduced to the negotiations, including e-commerce. According to an article in The Wire, prior to the Ministerial, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu emphasized the need to conclude negotiations on issues already on the table – including the agricultural issues brought up by the Doha Agenda - before introducing new topics.
NDTV also reports that India had the support of over 100 WTO member countries on its proposal that WTO disciplines first focus on eliminating the most trade-distorting forms of subsidies, which are mainly used by developed countries. Despite this support, however, it appears that an agreement on agricultural issues should not be expected.
Further Ministerial decisions and their implications for India will follow shortly.