By Ashish Joshi
In an unlikely turn of events, the US has refused to take any concrete decision on the food subsidy issue in the ongoing WTO ministerial meeting in the capital city of Argentina. Public stockholding for food security (PSH) purposes has been a priority issue for numerous developing countries like India and China and the refusal has left them deeply disappointed.
Opposition to PSH spending
WTO classifies domestic support subsidies in three categories: Green Box (No restriction), Amber Box (spending has to be reduced in future) and Red Box (Strictly prohibited). EU and US collectively spend over $200 Billion for their Green Box programs but surprisingly, PSH spending, which is deemed necessary in developing countries of Asia and Africa to ensure food security for their poor, has been kept in the Amber box. The G-33 nations, actively led by India, had tabled concrete proposals to get PSH spending into the Green Box and demanded a final decision against the existing controversial setup in the ongoing conference.
The proposal submitted by G-33 nations had opposition from various member nations on the chair like the US, the EU, Australia, Brazil, Canada, among others. Although Brazil and EU came up with a similar proposal to exempt the PSH spending programs from subsidy reduction commitment, their proposal had stark differences from the one submitted by G-33 nations in the conditions attached for the transformation.
India, in cooperation with the G-33 nations, has been pitching hard for exempting PSH spending from a future reduction commitment. India wants to be able to purchase, stockpile and distribute food without being challenged in the trade body, something India believes is crucial in her bid to protect her farmers and ensure food security for her poor. India has expressed a deep disappointment in the fact that a permanent solution could not be reached on an issue which directly impacts the lives of 800 million people around the globe.
An official statement released by India on Tuesday said, “This has posed a severe threat to a successful conclusion of the conference as there was a Ministerial mandate for a permanent solution by MC 11. This has the potential to irreversibly damage the credibility of the WTO as a Ministerial Decision of all countries present in Nairobi has not been honoured.”
The US, on the other hand, has questioned India’s status as a developing country. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said, “There is something wrong, in our view, when five of the six richest countries in the world presently claim developing country status.”
While the host nation, Argentina, remains adamant to reach a decision at the end of the conference, whether or not the US votes. Although the decisions in WTO conferences are taken by a majority voting but never ever in WTO’s history has a decision been taken without the US voting. Whether or not any decision is taken now remains to be seen but most certainly the budding Indo-US romance of the recent past has taken a bad hit.