ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Food Security Uncertainties after Bali

The Government of India claims "victory" at the WTO; it has only bought time.

For two decades now, every major ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has ended with two identical announcements. One is for the India’s minister of commerce at the time to announce that the country has been successful in protecting its interests. The second is for the WTO head at the time to announce that a balanced agreement to the benefit of all countries has been reached. Both statements have always been false, or at best half-truths. The same performance was played out earlier this month at Bali, Indonesia, at the end of the ninth ministerial conference of the WTO. India claimed “victory”, when, using the same language of sports, it would be more correct to say that at best it came away with a draw, or worse, half a defeat. The WTO claimed the world’s poor would benefit from Bali, when in actual fact it oversaw a set of trade agreements that had “imbalance” written all over them with the developed countries walking away with the biggest gains.

For India, the most important item on the agenda was to ensure that its current public distribution system (PDS) as well as the new food security programme under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) would not have to be curtailed if the food subsidy breached the ceilings decreed by the WTO’s 1994 Agreement on Agriculture (AoA). While the AoA does permit governments to operate public stockholding programmes and provide foodstuffs to the poor at subsidised rates, the provisions of that agreement were sufficiently ambivalent to cause concern. For the past few years, India, as a member of the Group of 33 coalition at the WTO, has been demanding that the rules on public distribution programmes, particularly the manner in which the food subsidy is measured on the basis of outdated reference prices of 1986-88, must be changed.

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