India loses historic opportunity of correcting WTO wrongs

6:16 pm in News by Kavitha

“Agreements at Bali jeopardize Food and Livelihood Security of millions in the name of international trade and this is unacceptable”

New Delhi, December 7th, 2013: Expressing deep disappointment with the official and media hype around India’s ‘win’ in the WTO Bali Ministerial Conference, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said that India lost a historical opportunity of correcting deep-seated problems with the World Trade Organization. Even as the Indian government delegation claims that it was a great win, India did not actually gain from the “Bali package” despite its correct stand on food and livelihood security being of paramount importance. On the one hand, the agreement on Public Stockholding compromises on certain crucial positions taken by G-33 and India, thus resulting in restrictions on future food security program and price support interventions for small farmers. On the other hand, the agreement on Trade Facilitation gives the developed countries all the freedom from restrictions they wanted, which is a threat to the interests of millions of small farmers in India. Moreover, this revives the WTO process and Agreement on Agriculture without addressing the fundamental imbalance and injustice built into WTO. ASHA believes that the net result is that the Bali round has jeopardized the interests of the nation’s farmers as well as the food security of its citizens, in the long term and possibly in the short term.

While it appears that the 4-year deadline is not included in the so-called peace clause in the ‘Bali Package’ text, the work programme in reality aims at producing a permanent solution in four years. This is unrealistic given that years of negotiations have not resulted in any improvements on some fundamental equity and justice issues in the WTO rules. This peace clause is also weakened in its language where other member countries are only agreeing to ‘refrain from’ challenging India in the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism. This is not language that ‘bars’ other members from dragging India to the dispute settlement mechanism, according to analysts.

Further, it appears that the interim solution is mainly in the context of the AoA (Agreement on Agriculture) and not the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ASCM) which can still leave room for other nations to drag India to the dispute settlement mechanism (this is based on the analysis of the 6th December draft text). It also appears that India has given in to pressure without keeping future priorities of the country in mind – the solution (as per the December 6th draft text) circumscribes the food security stockholding to interventions that exist now (as on the date of the Decision) and to ‘staple food grains’ without allowing India to take care of food/nutrition and livelihood security of millions lying outside this scope. India has also opened up its domestic policies, programmes and mechanisms to international scrutiny unnecessarily at this point of time, with large data and reporting mechanisms to be put into place.

Commerce Minister Anand Sharma’s statement in the opening plenary that the ‘survival’ aspect of agriculture far outweighs any of its ‘commercial’ aspects, and that any trade agreement must be in harmony with shared commitments globally of eliminating hunger and ensuring the right to food which are an integral part of the MDGs, that our people’s food security is non-negotiable and that there is a legitimate obligation and moral commitment of our government to food and livelihood security were all the most important principles to be kept in mind in any trade negotiation, including this Bali package in the WTO. It is indeed unfortunate that this opportunity of keeping these cardinal development principles alive in all WTO agreements, or opting to quit WTO if needed, was thrown away. This is an injustice to the poor and hungry in India as well as in other developing and least developed countries.

“If in 1995 many countries like India walked into the WTO without realizing or comprehending the rigged rules of the game, but only lured by the tall promises made, it was perhaps excusable. But in 2013, when it has become amply clear that the mechanisms of categorizing into Green Box and Amber Box, and trade-distorting and non-trade distorting, are rigged in favour of the developed countries, and that these rules only undermine all our support systems to farmers, there is no excuse for India to have bartered away anything at WTO. Where was the need for India to accept this draft at all? Was the reiteration of so-called commitments just an election-related PR exercise? This is unacceptable”, said ASHA in a statement released here today.

The statement also said: “It is apparent from the beginning that the Agreement on Trade Facilitation was the main point of this WTO meet, which is what the developed countries and WTO leaders are seeing as the major achievement. In the media and public debate in India, the issues with trade facilitation have been sidelined, with the focus on food security issue. And the US plan seems to be precisely that – to use the public stockholding agreement as a trade-off for trade facilitation. While they have hard bargained on the public stock-holding, India has not bargained on trade facilitation at all, apart from giving away a lot on food and livelihood security”.

“It is disappointing that the Bali package has done nothing to redress historical wrongs – the fact that the developed world has rigged the rules from the beginning, that they continue to provide massive subsidies in various forms circumventing the free trade ideology touted at the altar of WTO, and pricing out smallholder producers of the developing world. The larger fight against unfair trade has to continue”, said ASHA.

ASHA is a nationwide network consisting of farmer organizations, civil society groups, academics and scientists, working for Kisan Swaraj – based on livelihood security for all farming families, ecologically sustainable agriculture, rights of farming community over seed, land and water, and access to safe, nutritious food for all.

Contact:

Kavitha Kuruganti: 9393001550; kavitha_kuruganti@yahoo.com

Kiran Vissa: 9701705743; kiranvissa@gmail.com