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India rejects US + 9 nations’ call for plurilateral talks on PSH

Trade 2022-09-21, 1:36pm

food-a-crowd-of-people-has-queued-up-behind-a-tcb-truck-to-buy-essentials-at-cheap-prices-a87ff261a24378d52f0da3a2e2010c8a1663745777.jpg

Food - A crowd of people has queued up behind a TCB truck to buy essentials at cheap prices.



Geneva, 19 Sep (D. Ravi Kanth) — India has refused to enter into plurilateral consultations with the United States and nine other countries on the issue of alleged lack of transparency in the implementation of public stockholding (PSH) programs for food security, said people familiar with the development.

India apparently criticized the continuing attempts at adopting seemingly double standards in regard to the manner in which implementation of decisions adopted at other ministerial conferences seems to have been set aside.

The PSH issue was taken up at a meeting of the WTO’s Committee on Agriculture on 14-15 September under paragraph six of the Bali ministerial mandate (adopted at the WTO’s ninth ministerial conference held in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2013).

But other implementation issues concerning the ministerial outcomes such as the decision on the permanent solution for PSH programs and the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries are being ignored, India apparently complained.

At the meeting, India argued firmly that it is ready to hold bilateral consultations to address the concerns raised by the ten countries on the issue they had raised about the alleged lack of transparency in the implementation of the PSH programs but not in a plurilateral format, as being demanded by the US and some of these nine other countries, said people who took part in the meeting.

The other nine countries include Australia, Canada, Japan, Paraguay, Thailand, Uruguay, Brazil, New Zealand, and the European Union.

After blocking the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security at the WTO’s 12th ministerial conference (MC12), held in Geneva in June, the US and its nine allies adopted a new game plan to stall the negotiations on the mandated permanent solution for PSH programs, as demanded by its farm lobbies, said people, who asked not to be quoted.

The US, which has been apparently working overtime to undermine the PSH programs for the last several years, seems to have raised the issue against India in March this year, and later it played an influential role in creating the ten-member group, said trade officials, who asked not to be quoted.

Subsequently, the US took a back seat on this issue while Thailand and Paraguay became the main interlocutors on behalf of the US, said trade officials, who asked not to be identified.

At the meeting, the ten countries raised the issue under paragraph six of the Bali ministerial decision on PSH programs, which states that “a developing Member benefiting from this Decision shall upon request hold consultations with other Members on the operation of its public stockholding programs notified under paragraph 3.a” concerning those members that exceeded their de minimis level.

India has twice notified the WTO that it has exceeded the de minimis limit of 10 percent for rice, with regards to its Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS).

New Delhi has conveyed that it is ready to engage in the consultations bilaterally as it is required to do so under paragraph 6 of the Bali decision but will not accept consultations in a plurilateral setting, as proposed by the US and some of these nine other countries.

According to a restricted report (G/AG/R/102) issued last month, “seven Members expressed concern with India’s lack of full transparency in taking recourse to the Bali Decision as required under both the Agreement on Agriculture and the Decision, including in replies to certain questions raised in the Committee.”

The initial request for consultations with India was made by the US and six other countries in the month of May, later joined by New Zealand and Brazil, and finally by the EU.

Japan, which is one of the leading farm-protectionist countries, apparently sought consultations with India in a plurilateral format, said officials familiar with the consultations.

The Committee’s chairperson said that “these consultations pursuant to paragraph 6 of the Bali Decision on PSH would be organized in bilateral or plurilateral settings,” suggesting that “the Committee was the body mandated to monitor the implementation of the Decision and therefore participating Members should keep the Committee fully updated on the progress made in those consultations.”

Earlier, the chair of the Committee on Agriculture, Mr. Marcel Vernooij (from the Netherlands), noted that these consultations pursuant to paragraph 6 of the Bali Decision on PSH would be organized in bilateral or plurilateral settings.

At the last Committee meeting, Mr. Vernooij said that the Committee was the body mandated to monitor the implementation of the Decision and therefore participating Members should keep the Committee fully updated on the progress made in those consultations.

At the latest Committee meeting, India apparently asked why other implementation issues such as those agreed on the PSH and SSM at the WTO’s tenth ministerial conference (MC10), held in Nairobi, Kenya, in December 2015, were not being taken up, said a participant, who asked not to be quoted.

Given the standoff between India on the one side, and the US and the other nine members, on the other, there seems to be no clarity on how this issue will be resolved.

DG’S CLIMATE CHANGE & SUSTAINABILITY RETREAT

Meanwhile, the Director-General, Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is planning to convene a retreat on agriculture at the Hilton Hotel in Evian, France on 24 October.

The retreat apparently would cost the WTO Swiss Francs 50,000 to brainstorm on the issue of Climate Change and Agriculture Sustainability.

It is not clear whether it would serve any purpose in arriving at a work program on agriculture at this juncture, said trade officials, who asked not to be quoted.

Also, without addressing the historical imbalances and inequities in the agriculture rules and without resolving/ completing the Doha work program on agriculture, the DG’s retreat seems to further confound the agricultural work program, said people, who asked not to be quoted.

MC12 was a huge setback as ministers failed to arrive at a work program on agriculture and on the two mandated issues of the permanent solution for PSH programs and the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) for developing countries.

During last week’s meetings, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) respectively presented papers on food security and farm subsidies, as well as climate change.

The OECD noted that climate change, subsidies, and governmental programs are adversely affecting agriculture.

According to the OECD, climate change is adversely affecting agriculture, while agriculture, especially livestock such as cattle and sheep among others, are contributing to climate change.

In its report, the Rome-based FAO presented three challenges confronting global agriculture, such as food security, livelihood security, and sustainability.

Hence, the DG’s sole focus on climate change and agriculture sustainability without considering food security and livelihood security seems somewhat misplaced, said trade officials, who asked not to be quoted.

“PLURILATERALIZATION” OF AGRICULTURE

In a separate development, in a retreat on 17 September, the Cairns Group of farm-exporting countries led by Australia echoed somewhat controversial approaches based on securing market access, including “the idea of a critical mass plurilateral agreement in agriculture” on “reform by minimizing the influence of Members who may otherwise play a blocking role”.

After a retreat at the weekend, which was apparently attended by the United States, the European Union, and Japan among others, the Cairns Group suggested three approaches such as: (1) the critical mass plurilateral agreement in agriculture; (2) sectoral agreements that bring into play both market access and domestic support; and (3) a comprehensive new global compact on subsidies, including agriculture, industrial and environment subsidies.

These three approaches seem somewhat incongruent with the Doha Development Agenda as well as Article 20 of the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture, said a trade official, who asked not to be quoted.

Further, market access for red meats and dairy products is concentrated in the three big markets of the European Union, the United States, and Japan, but the Cairns Group finds it hard to secure market access in these three restrictive markets, the official said.

Hence, the continuing “virus” of plurilaterals has now spread to agriculture in what appears to be a deadly process of “Balkanization” of the multilateral organization.