Nirmala Sitharaman raises food security issues at WTO

Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman
Commerce and industry minister Nirmala SItharaman has reiterated that there be a solution to the issue of public stockholding of foodgrain and a special safeguard mechanism.

She said so during a visit to World Trade Organisation (WTO) headquarters in Geneva earlier this week. In her meeting with WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo, she discussed India's position on various issues, prior to the WTO meet in Argentina later this year.

Unanimous reaffirmation of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) had not occurred at the earlier ministerial conference during 2015 in Nairobi. And, the contentious issues of public stockholding of food and a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) in agriculture have also not seen much progress.

The DDA, adopted in 2001 at the fourth ministerial conference, had always struggled to find common ground between richer nations and poorer ones. With not much progress in 14 years, richer nations want new issues to replace the DDA. Developing nations, especially least developed countries (LDCs), oppose this, demanding trade concessions in the form of reduced tariffs and market access.

However, WTO procedures mandate that any new resolution garner unanimous support of member-countries before being adopted. Even so, richer nations led by the European Union have started lobbying for new issues such as e-commerce to be the focus at the ministerial conference in Argentina this December.

Sitharaman has said the issue should be made part of the official agenda only after unanimity, senior commerce department officials say support from nations in the Africa bloc has been waning. While a grouping of Latin American nations — Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Uruguay — and some others (Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), named 'Friends of E-Commerce for Development', has initiated panel-level talks on the issue.

Developed nations have pushed for discussion on proposed global rules on e-commerce for a long time. Over the past couple of weeks, Australia, Switzerland, Norway and the European Union have made fresh arguments on its behalf.

India has put its weight behind liberalisation of services trade through its proposal of a trade facilitation agreement on services, along the lines of the similar one on goods initiated earlier by the WTO. However, responses from other nations have been lukewarm.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel