WTO trade facilitation pact: farmers' organisations ask Modi government to protect India's food security interests

Appeal comes a day before WTO general council meet takes up agreement that ostensibly would streamline cross-border trade

 
By Vani Manocha
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

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Farmers organisations have called on the Indian government to take a firm stand on linking the food security proposal with the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), a day before the general council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) takes up the agreement aimed at streamlining cross-border trade.

WTO (World Trade Organization) members had agreed to TFA at Bali last year, but the agreement has run into trouble with developing nations, including India, expressing unhappiness with rich countries for not addressing their concerns on food subsidies. TFA is supposed to push up global income by US $1 trillion and add a whopping 20 million jobs, of which 18 million would be in the developing world, but many developing countries see it as a trade  offensive launched against them by developed nations.

TFA has a deadline of July 31, when all the 160 WTO member countries have to sign the agreement into a protocol, marking implementation of the first phase of the deal. It will come into force fully from 2015.

Farmers organisations pointed to the chairperson's summary of the G-20 trade minister's meeting held on July 19, which they said is completely silent on the food security proposal of the Bali declaration, while it referred specifically to TFA, which would be a binding agreement. A “peace clause” in the agreement allows WTO member nations with sizeable poor populations and small farmers to stockpile foodgrains as a food security measure for another four years till a permanent solution is found. 
 
Yudhvir Singh, leader of farmers' organisation Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), said the government of India needs to sustain and increase domestic agricultural production through price support, procurement and other measures to achieve self-sufficiency in food production in the backdrop of rising costs and extremely volatile global market prices, and to fulfil the constitutional obligation of food security to its people, and also to ensure the livelihood security of producers. “This is all the more important in the context of hundreds of thousands of farmers committing suicides in desperation,” he said.

Activists working on food safety and security have also demanded that government safeguard the food security interests of the nation. Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said the government of India had lost a historical opportunity in correcting deep-seated WTO wrongs in the Bali Ministerial. “At least now they need to stand firm on our sovereign policy space related to food and livelihood security, and sustainable development pathways. Indian government at that time settled for a temporary solution with so called 'peace clause'. Lack of progress towards a 'permanent solution' vindicates our apprehensions. At this point of time, the government should not buckle under any international pressure. It should remain firm in its position,” she said.

Naresh Sirohi of BJP Kisan Morcha added, ”India has currently taken a position to block the ratification of the TFA unless other elements of the Bali Outcome including permanent solution on the food security proposal and the LDC package are advanced. However we are hearing conflicting reports of India being ‘fully committed to the (Bali) package’. This clearly gives an impression that India may agree to the finalisation of protocol on trade facilitation with out the finalisation of Doha Round especially on the issue of food security, which is against the principle of the single undertaking.”

Vijoo Krishnan of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) said government's recent policy to freeze agricultural subsidies and to reduce public food stockholding will endanger food security and push Indian farmers out of agriculture. The government has to reverse it at national level and protect its policy space at WTO to provide production support to its farmers, he said.

 

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