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Read : Food Security agenda at WTO
Food security was widely discussed at the Ninth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia, between December 3 and 7, 2013. At this conference, Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma announced that India would continue with its existing arrangement on farm subsidy, even though it was not in line with the draft prepared by WTO.
This draft stated that developing nations would be given temporary relief of up to four years from the provisions of the WTO law, where farm subsidies that distort the market can only be limited to 10% of the total production.
According to the WTO, India’s Food Security Act comes under the market distorting subsidy since the government purchases food grains at market prices and sells them to over 65% of the population at prices below the market rate.
At the conference, developed and developing countries seemed to be at war with each other - developed nations claimed that India’s Food Security Act may distort the global agricultural commodity prices and ultimately, hurt the interests of the farmers in developed nations whereas India claimed that the implementation of such food security acts are necessary because they help to alleviate poverty.
In addition, India made it clear that the subsidized food grains are reserved for domestic consumption and not for export. A number of developing countries, including India, felt that WTO’s policies were aimed at furthering the mercantilist ambitions of the developed countries at the expense of the developing countries and the poor.
Hence, in the midst of the conference, a number of questions arose, including “Is it possible for the Indian government and governments of other developing countries to build a safety net for the poor without violating the agreements put forth by the WTO?” Unfortunately, no member country had the answer to the aforementioned question.
Before the end of the WTO conference, all member countries came to a conclusion that until a permanent solution was found, an interim mechanism would be put in place. All the countries have been given the opportunity to negotiate for an agreement for a permanent solution for adoption by the Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference in 2017.
In the interim, member countries will be protected against challenge in the WTO under the Agreement on Agriculture with regard to public stockholding programs for the purpose of food security.
The outcome of the WTO conference comes as a blessing to not only India but also other developing nations that are working hard to feed their poor and ensure food security.
In addition, the positive outcome at the conference has strengthened the credibility of WTO as an institution – WTO is now seen as an organization that is not biased towards developed countries but one which looks into the welfare of both the developed and developing nations.
Through this conference, India has proven to the world that it is serious about the Food Security Act and is concerned about the welfare of its citizens. In addition, it has made it clear to the world that it will not make any compromises or adjustments in its policies pertaining to food security.