Food security non-negotiable, Sharma tells WTO

In a strongly-worded message to WTO members, India Wednesday said the food security issue was "non-negotiable" and the country also managed support for its stand from several nations from Africa and Latin America.

PTI| Updated: Dec 05, 2013, 09:34 AM IST

Bali: In a strongly-worded message to WTO members, India Wednesday said the food security issue was "non-negotiable" and the country also managed support for its stand from several nations from Africa and Latin America.

"Agriculture sustains millions of subsistence farmers. Their interests must be secured. Food security is essential for over four billion people of the world.

"For India, food security is non-negotiable. Need of public stock-holding of foodgrains to ensure food security must be respected. Dated WTO rules need to be corrected," Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said addressing the plenary session of the 9th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

For its tough stand over the food security issue, India got support from several new members from Africa and Latin America, though some G-33 partners like Indonesia and China have shifted their positions.

The second day of the WTO Ministerial Conference started with India saying "we have a half-baked agricultural package ... For India food security is non-negotiable".

According to sources, the "strong and clear" message given by Sharma during the plenary session of the WTO meeting, "created a flutter" here and a whole lot of enquiries were made.
Sharma, on his part trimmed his speech to the allotted three minutes lest it should evoke some adverse remarks from the chair.

"China has got what it wanted in trade facilitation and Indonesia is a host country which wants a successful conclusion to the long stalled talks," Indian sources said. Earlier both were supporting India's stand.

As the day progressed, in a meeting which was convened by WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, as many as 25 nations including Nigeria, Argentina, Kenya, Jamaica, Brazil, Cuba, South Africa and Bolivia strongly supported India's view that a permanent solution is must for the smooth implementation of the food security programme.

During the meeting, which went for about two-and-a-half hours, about 25 out of 55 members, supported India's stand on the food security issue. The DG was taking a close door meeting to assess the state of play of the meeting.

"About 25 members who made speeches clearly said that there was an imbalance in the overall Bali package and food security is an issue which cannot be compromised and a permanent solution is required for this," they said adding "some of them said there cannot be an interim solution".

Sources said that as reported by few media that India has isolated on the matter is "wrong".

During his bilateral meeting with Azevedo, Sharma conveyed to him that the current Bali package is not balanced for developing nations.

"The WTO chief too has clearly recognised that there is a problem," they said.

Other WTO members who supported India's stand include Nepal, Egypt, Uganda, Namibia, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mauritius and Nicaragua.

Meanwhile addressing media, WTO Spokesperson Keith Rockwell said that during the long meeting in afternoon some members supported India's stand.

"Some African and Latin American countries have supported the India's position on peace clause," Rockwell said.

Sharma's strong tone in the morning session did not go well with western media as several of them sought views on that from EU Trade Commissioner Karl De Gucht and Rockwell.

"Minister Sharma has a very strong view on that," Rockwell said. When asked about the tone of Sharma, Gucht said: "What Sharma said was straight forward ... He has to see what tone he has to use. That is his responsibility".

Meanwhile a Pakistani diplomat said that India's food security programme has some problem as the foodgrain bought through public procurement may be released in the global market which may distort global prices.

"Delink social safety programmes from others...And ensure that it does not distort global trade and better shift to cash transfer schemes," the diplomat said.