AIKS Flays India’s Abject Surrender
WTO MEET ON FOOD SECURITY
THROUGH a statement issued from New Delhi on December 7, 2013 by its president, Amra Ram, and general secretary, Hannan Mollah, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has flayed the abject surrender at the WTO ministerial by the commerce minister of the government of India. The organisation has demanded that the government refrain from accepting the provisions of the unequal ministerial decision on public stockholding for food security purposes without discussion with and approval of the Indian states and parliament. Saying that it stands opposed to the WTO ministerial decision which constrains and infringes upon our sovereign right to provide price support to farmers as well as ensure food security for the hungry millions, the AIKS said the government of India has only given a new lease of life to the failed WTO, which was becoming irrelevant after the Doha round. The only possible gain that the government can claim is that a peace clause will be in place in the interim until a permanent solution is found. The AIKS pointed out that the commerce minister’s public posturing and the text agreed to are at variance. On reading the ministerial decision carefully, one can understand how it will seriously compromise India’s food security and farmers’ livelihoods. India has failed to secure permanent protection to safeguard the food security of its people and price support for farmers and assert it as a non-negotiable sovereign right. It has meekly agreed to the insistence of the developed world to accept guilt, by accepting the interim clause that mandates reporting of violations of de minimis aggregate measure of support (AMS) levels. The AIKS said the agreement would threaten expansion of the present programmes of food security and price support to farmers as well as future programmes with such objectives. It is the USA, EU and other developed countries which have brokered a deal with the commerce minister, Anand Sharma, to protect the interests of the rich nations and their agribusinesses. STANDSTILL PROVISION The AIKS pointed out that the ministerial decision has a standstill provision incorporated in the text, which clearly states that the peace clause or due restraint provisions shall only be used to protect the public stockholding programmes “existing as of the date of this decision.” Footnote number 3 is deceptive and even as it states that this decision does not preclude developing countries from introducing programmes of public stockholding for food security purposes, in the name of safeguards against circumvention, para 4 clearly states that they should not distort trade and para 5 prohibits an increase of the support subject to the member’s bound total aggregate measure of support (AMS) or the de minimis limits. This will freeze all scope of expansion of programmes for food security or price support to farmers in India. Other G-33 countries, which have no such programmes in place at present, will also be deprived. Also, the crop basket under purview of the minimum support prices cannot be increased. Pulses, cooking oil and crops other than those described as “traditional staples” by the WTO cannot be included in the food security programme. Even the quantity of foodgrains procured cannot be increased beyond the procurement as of date. All this would have serious implications for the food security programme, the AIKS statement said. It may also mean that entitlements under the food security programmes, as also the MSP for different crops, will have to be frozen. Further, the support price valuation will not be based on current prices, as India was demanding, and will remain to be based on the 1987-88 prices. DELIBERATE AMBIGUITY,CONDITIONS & MONITORING While para 2 of the ministerial decision states that it will be valid “in the interim, until a permanent solution is found,” it also states in para 1 that such a solution is for adoption at the eleventh ministerial conference, which is four years hence. Para 2 also states that the members shall refrain from challenging the decision through the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism, “provided that the conditions set out” in the decision are met. Though the WTO secretariat described this as a “constructive ambiguity,” the AIKS said it actually deliberately dilutes the G-33 demand that this should be applicable till a permanent settlement is found under the agreement on agriculture (AoA) and the agreement on subsidies and countervailing measures (ASCM). The present decision, taken at the behest of the USA and EU, is applicable only to the AoA, implying that members may drag India to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism under ASCM. As per the latest decision, compliance is mandatory to the onerous requirements regarding data and transparency, and to the condition that there should be no distortion of trade or adverse effects on food security of other members. This is but an infringement on a nation’s sovereign decision making process and could have serious implications. The agriculture ministry and the food and consumer affairs ministry of the government of India will be forced to comply with these unilaterally decided conditions on an annual basis. Failure to supply the data can be tantamount to suspension of the peace clause since it has been made conditional to meet the transparency requirement. The AIKS statement also said countries are also to provide information on their administered or release prices and the volume of stocks purchased as well as how they arrived at these figures. This could unnecessarily expose the domestic policies and priorities to being questioned in the WTO’s committee on agriculture. However, such detailed notification and transparency requirements have not been demanded of the developed countries who would enjoy special and differential treatment regarding transparency and notification. SILENCE ON SUBSIDIES OF RICH COUNTRIES According to the AIKS, the rich countries led by the USA and the EU have retained their unrestricted right to channelise billions of dollars to their farmers and their food aid programmes while the WTO has failed to deal with issues like the export subsidies of rich nations and US cotton subsidies, which the WTO’s Hong Kong ministerial meeting had promised to address in 2005. India has failed in the WTO ministerial meeting to give leadership to the third world countries and ensure the removal of such subsidies. The Bali ministerial meeting also came up with an imbalanced package which will, according to the AIKS, mean expensive customs agreement for developing countries in the name of trade facilitation. This is tailor-made to promote the interests of predatory agribusinesses who monopolise the trade. The commitment to a work programme could facilitate the damaging trade liberalisation agenda of Doha round being brought in, and the developing countries will have to cough up much more in addition to paying with trade facilitation now for arriving at a permanent solution. THIRD WORLD SOLIDARITY BROKEN India was seen as the leader of the G-33 countries and the third world looked up to its role. However, our commerce minister broke the solidarity that was built meticulously over the years and capitulated to the hard bargain from the USA and other developed countries. The AIKS statement accused that the government of India failed to create a coalition for the developing countries to collectively oppose the completely distorted Bali package. As a result, India could not contribute at all towards the correction of the fundamental problems of the present international trade regime. Thus, on the whole, the WTO agreement will continue to be a major threat to the working people in the less developed countries. The AIKS also said India also did not insist on ending the inhuman 60 years old US blockade on Cuba, and that the Latin American, African and Asian countries have been let down by India’s decision. The AIKS has therefore urged upon all sections to rise up and resist such decisions that are against our people and against the sovereignty of our country.