India to take tough stand on food subsidy at WTO Bali meet
New Delhi: Ahead of WTO meet in Bali, India Thursday decided to insist on permanent immunity from actions for breach of subsidy level on rolling out food security plan-- a stand that can potentially derail talks next week.
The Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to insist on solution to the subsidy breach issue prior to finalisation of Trade Facilitation Agreement even if it means that New Delhi will be blamed for any potential failure in Bali, sources said.
The meeting gave Commerce Minister Anand Sharma a mandate to negotiate India's stand at the Bali WTO ministerial meeting beginning December 3-6
The Commerce Ministry placed before the Cabinet three options but the bottom line was that India will not compromise on its stand that it should be allowed to provide subsidised food to all poor and offer the minimum support price to farmers even if the 10 percent ceiling on farm subsidy as provided in the WTO is breached, sources said.
The Cabinet decided on the second option which insists for the interim solution (four-year 'peace clause') must remain in place until a permanent solution is reached.
"We are also assured protection from challenge under the WTO agreement on subsidies and countervailing measures," sources said.
This proposal would protect India's food security plan from WTO penalties even if 10 percent subsidy cap is breached.
Under the peace clause, a WTO member gets immunity against penalty for breaching the food subsidy cap. It would allow also India to procure foodgrains at the MSP and sell it at subsidised rates through the public distribution system.
As per the WTO norms, a developing nation can provide food subsidy of up to 10 percent of the total farm output
India stance however, is likely to face stiff opposition at WTO, they said.
"In such a situation, considering India's consistent stand on a fair Bali package, it may not be desirable to endorse the TFA. In that case, it is likely that India may be blamed for a failure at Bali," sources said.
Sources said India is unlikely to endorse the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) if New Delhi' stand on food subsidy is accepted. TFA is aimed at making international trade much easier by simplifying and streamlining custom procedures across the globe, sources said, adding that the pact is billed to bring in gains worth USD 1 trillion for global trade.
India's Food Security Act entitles 82 crore people to 5 kgs of foodgrain per person in a month at the rate of Rs 1-3 per kg. The country needs 62 million tonnes of foodgrain in a year to implement the law.
According to media reports, negotiators in Geneva, (the WTO headquarter) failed to sort out differences on Tuesday on issues like trade facilitation and food security ahead of the Ministerial Conference in Bali.
Clinching a global trade deal in Bali would be seen as an endeavour to revive Doha round of talks started way back in 2001.
Developed countreis, led by the US, are trying to shift the blame for the deadlock on developing countries like India.