Hypocrisy on India’s food security plan

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Can we expect WTO to work towards trade with a human face ?

Hypocrisy on India’s food security plan
MEAGRE MORSEL: When over half of India’s population lives on less than $1.25 a day, does this not qualify the country for food security?
India has rightly asserted its right to provide food security to its people. And no other country can deny the elected government of sovereign India this right. To protect this very right, Indian negotiators have taken the hard line at the ninth WTO ministerial conclave at Bali. And for that if India gets isolated, so be it.

India has not brooked and should not brook any conditions or give-and-take with regard to food security. ‘Green box’ is a new coinage that has gained currency at WTO; it means accommodating more acute trade distorting subsidies. India shouldn’t be bothered about working within or out of the green box even if it has to plough a lonely furrow to ensure food for all

What happened at Bali this week is a show of muscle-flexing by the big three: the US, European Union, Japan, the troika which has been making aggressive attempts to hijack the Doha development agenda since 2001. It was Murasoli Maran, then India’s chief trade negotiator, who stood solitarily against the troika and sought to keep the development agenda intact with their linkages to trade and investments.

He was fully backed by the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and India withstood pressure from the then US president George Bush and the British prime minister John Major to bring the Doha agenda on track and make inclusive development its focus. India’s allies in trade talks at Doha slipped away in the penultimate stage of negotiations after the US and the EU put to best use their muscle and money power. Some of India’s allies in the trade negotiations like Pakistan was easily lured away with easy loans; small West African nations were won over by the EU and the US which gave them market access to their banana exports.

Something similar unfolded at Bali. Only aggressive behind-the-scene manoeuvring by the EU and the can explain why China and Indonesia should change their stand at the last moment and pressure New Delhi to sign an ‘inequitable’ Bali deal that would have affected its food security programme.

One needs to dispassionately analyse India’s stand at WTO, separating it from the political mileage that UPA will derive from having spearheaded the food security campaign with one eye on the Lok Sabha elections.

As far as subsidies go, the US and the EU are no lily-white pure. They have been disbursing trade distorting farm and food subsidies under the green box option. Yet they have the gall to question India’s food security programme, which, it must be admitted, involves huge subsidies.

According to data in public domain, the US doled out over $100 billion worth of subsidies in 2012 alone to its farmers. Over 80 per cent of these subsidies were pocketed by large US corporations which undertake commercial farming. The EU is not far behind. Its farm subsidies and food stamps crossed ¤57 billion in 2010.

By comparison, Indian food and farm subsidies do not touch $20 billion even today and is a fraction of what the EU and the US dole out. Even as they defended their own subsidies, they accused India of providing trade-distorting subsidies and threatened the country with trade sanctions.

Specially objectionable is the US and EU insistence on India capping food subsidy to 10 per cent of the foodgrain prices prevailing in 1986-87, more than 25 years ago. Prices have since risen manifold. Accepting this condition would have made the food security programme completely infructuous.

The opposition to Indian campaign comes at a time when even the UN millennium development agenda gives priority to food security in most member-countries combating poverty. When over half of India’s population lives on less than $1.25 a day, does this not qualify the country for food security?

The offer of a four-year peace clause to cap subsidies in countries like India seems an unworkable proposition. New Delhi’s insistence to keep the peaceclause till a permanent solution was hammered out is only justified given long-term goals of alleviating poverty and ending hunger globally.

It’s not the question of a few million Indians who will be impacted in case New Delhi is restrained or restricted from providing food security. Over four billion people in other developing countries like Brazil, South Africa and the G33 least developed countries also face hunger and death.

Trade with a human face is what is expected from WTO and it should work towards that, instead of becoming another tool in the hands of the US and its cohorts.


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