India needs assurance on food subsidy before signing WTO deal

India needs assurance on food subsidy before signing WTO deal

India on Friday firmly rejected allegations of being a deal breaker in the WTO’s efforts to standardise global customs rules to ease trade and said it was still open to negotiations to conclude the agreement by December 2014.

Senior officials said India had to veto the talks on the trade facilitation, which needed to be put in the WTO rule book by July 31 for it to come into force, as its concerns on food security issues were not addressed.

India had agreed to conclude the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) at the WTO’s Bali Ministerial Conference last year as it was assured that its concerns on food security would be addressed in four years.

“But we did not see any movement on addressing the food security concerns. There was an impression that once the TFA was harvested, we would be left high and dry,” an official said.

As trade diplomats expressed shock over India’s decision to block the TFA, WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo held consultations with Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. He is learnt to have made a “personal suggestion” to the minister to find a solution to the imbroglio.

WTO officials had presented a month-by-month programme to address the food security issues raised by India and other developing countries.

Indian officials, however, were of the opinion that the WTO offer was merely a process which still maintained ambiguity on providing a solution to India’s concerns by December.

India insisted that the WTO General Council give a clear decision stating that its concerns on food security would be addressed by December so that the TFA could be signed simultaneously.

Officials here said all that the WTO offered was a “Chair’s summary” detailing the understanding of the chairperson of the General Council but not a decision of the Council asserting that food security issues would be addressed within a timeframe.

“Trade Facilitation and Food Security should pass the muster together,” a senior official said.

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