New Delhi, Nov 9:
India Sunday said a few nations cannot move ahead on a trade pact to ease global customs rules at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) without resolving the crucial food security issue.
“Nothing is agreed till everything is agreed is a principle which drives the WTO. How could you then isolate trade facilitation. All of us want to have trade facilitation. How could you just prioritize that,” Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at the India Global Forum meet, hosted here by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“Decisions are to be taken on a consensus basis. You are not going to isolate any one decision or any one country and say ‘Oh my God, you are not agreeing, forget it, you can be where you are, we are moving ahead’, cannot happen,” she added.
Last week, WTO director general Roberto Azevedo unveiled three options to break the current deadlock over the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) that aims to ease customs rules.
“Clearly some members are already talking about alternative ways to take the TFA forward,” Azevedo said, adding that one of the ways could be to “seek implementation of the TFA as a plurilateral agreement outside the WTO”.
India has asked for a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes and not a restricted period of four years as was originally decided during the WTO ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia last year.
Sitharaman said since the Uruguay Round of WTO, subsidies to farmers given by the US and the EU never came up for discussion.
“Some subsidies are being given and they are never called subsidies and never brought on the table. There was a distortion and an imperfection in the Bali agreement and that imperfection hurts our duty as a government which has to take care of its people,” she said.
“We are with you on the TFA, we want to go ahead on that, but be sure that you understand the case which we are bringing in because otherwise we have western economies also come back and lecture us on ‘Oh starving millions in India and government does not take care of them’. No, we want no such lectures, we will take care of starving Indians,” she added.
A crucial meeting of the WTO in Geneva in July to simplify the procedures of global commerce had failed to reach a conclusion, with India demanding as a quid pro quo some concessions for itself and other developing nations on food subsidy.
“Therefore, please extend the peace clause and find us a permanent solution. Do not make us wait till 2017. These are legitimate demands,” Sitharaman said.
Under the peace clause, a WTO member gets immunity against penalty for breaching the food subsidy cap. As per WTO rules, a developing nation can provide food subsidy of up to 10 percent of the total farm output.
The minister said a member-country cannot drag India every time into WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism in case of breach of the 10 percent subsidy cap.
Earlier this week Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said at a conference here that the peace clause due to disappear in four years time but India wanted “the decision on settlement of disputes and the peace clause should co-exist”.
“Taking care of us in the next four years is too long a period. Extend the peace clause, let it coexist until such a time that you do not get us a permanent solution,” Sitaraman said.