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India for finding solution to food stockholding issue first at WTO; then talk on other agri matters

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NewsDrum Desk
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New Delhi, Jan 18 (PTI) India would not negotiate any other issue on the agriculture sector till a permanent solution on public stockholding for food grains is found by the WTO members, an official said on Thursday.

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The issue would prominently figure in the 13th ministerial conference (MC) of the WTO (World Trade Organisation), which is scheduled from February 26-29 in Abu Dhabi.

MC is the highest decision-making body of the 164-member global trade watchdog WTO.

"The public stockpiling of food grain is the longest pending issue. Promise was made by the members in Bali MC and then later endorsed by subsequent conferences.

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"Without that, we will not take part in any discussion on any other issue on agriculture, unless the mandated issue is settled. This is our first ask," the official said.

Developed countries have raised flags over India's food security programmes such as buying rice and wheat from farmers at a government-administered price for distribution through public ration shops. They allege that this public procurement at subsidised rates and storage distorts global agri trade.

However, India has maintained they have to protect the interest of poor and vulnerable farmers, besides taking care of the food security needs of a large section of the population.

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The government provide 5 kilogrammes of free foodgrains per month to around 80 crore poor people free ration to about 80 crore people under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY). The Covid-19 pandemic has proved the importance of such initiatives.

Over 80 countries including from Africa are backing India's stand.

As part of finding the solution, India has pitched for changes in the formula to calculate the food subsidy cap and inclusion of programmes implemented after 2013 under the ambit of 'Peace Clause'.

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The WTO members at the Bali ministerial meeting in December 2013 had agreed to put in place a mechanism popularly called 'Peace Clause' and committed to negotiating an agreement for a permanent solution.

Under the Peace Clause, WTO members agreed to refrain from challenging any breach in the prescribed ceiling by a developing nation at the dispute settlement forum of the WTO. This clause is there till a solution is found.

Under global trade norms, a WTO member country's food subsidy bill should not breach the limit of 10 per cent of the value of production based on the external reference price (ERP) of 1986-88.

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Subsidies over and above the prescribed ceiling are seen as trade distorting. The limit is fixed at 10 per cent of the value of food production for developing countries like India.

India has earlier informed the WTO that it has used the peace clause to provide excess support measures to rice farmers for marketing year 2020-21, in order to meet the domestic food security needs of its poor population.

Some WTO nations including the US and Europe have been trying to shift the narrative of food security from public stockholding (PSH) to value-chain, market access and export restrictions.

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"India strongly opposes any comprehensive outcome on agriculture, linking PSH with domestic support or work programme as suggested by some developed country members," the official added.

These members want discussions on issues like providing information on export restrictions at least 30 days prior to the notification, which is not feasible.

India has also conveyed that support measures given by them to its poor farmers like input subsidies such as on electricity, irrigation, fertiliser and even direct transfers are non-negotiable.

Further New Delhi is pitching for reducing support measures by the developed countries to their agri sector which runs into billions of dollars.

The Geneva-based 164-member multi-lateral body deals with global exports and import-related norms. Besides, it adjudicates trade disputes between the member countries. PTI RR CS MR

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