Fishing rights stockholding: India will bring up important concerns before the WTO

Four people with direct knowledge of the matter said that India will demand special fishing rights for developing countries, oppose a Chinese agenda to mix trade and investment and push for an efficient dispute resolution mechanism before discussing other farm-related issues during the four-day ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization beginning on Monday. India will also insist on first resolving unresolved issues like public stockholding for food security.

India, a founding member of the WTO, said, seeking anonymity, that although it is dedicated to strengthening the multilateral trade organization, it would not accept unilateral actions by a certain set of nations to advance their agenda without engaging the other members. One of them said, “Permitting such actions will dilute the multilateral character of the WTO.”

The WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) will begin in Abu Dhabi on February 26. The MC is the global trade group’s top decision-making body, and decisions are made unanimously.

According to a second source, debates for public stockholding for food security are among the main topics of discussion at the MC13, which includes agriculture. For two reasons, it is very significant. In addition to meeting the National Food Security Act’s requirement to distribute subsidized food, it first entails purchasing food grains from farmers in order to guarantee them minimum support prices for their produce in the event that market prices decline. Second, the grains are purchased in order to supply free dry rations to over 810 million impoverished people as part of the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana.

WTO regulations restrict the number of subsidies that may be given for the purchase of certain goods. The ministerial decision adopted at the MC9 held in Bali in December 2013 that members would negotiate a permanent solution on this issue by the MC11 is being improved by the G33, a group of over 80 developing countries, including countries in Africa and India, that is demanding a permanent solution to public stockholding for food security. They also decided to refrain from bringing up issues pertaining to public stockholding that were established before to December 7, 2013, even in cases where nations went above their allowed thresholds.

The second source said, “The WTO’s general council (GC) in November 2014 extended the peace clause in perpetuity until a permanent solution is agreed and adopted after a firm stand taken by (the then commerce minister) Nirmala Sitharaman on this matter at the WTO.” “The GC’s decision was approved by the MC10 in Nairobi. Nevertheless, in the next ministerial conferences (MC11 in Buenos Aires and MC12 in Geneva), no resolution on this issue was reached.

A third answered that most Indian farmers are impoverished and need minimum prices to be supported in order to create public stockholding that supports food security initiatives, unlike Western nations with wealthy farm owners. He said, “India wants the interim arrangement to be made a permanent clause of the Agreement on Agriculture before taking up any other issue, even though the status quo is still maintained and public stockholding cannot be disputed.”

In the agricultural discussions, India and other developing nations are also requesting a special safeguard mechanism that would allow them to temporarily boost product tariffs in the event that imports of those goods increase or their prices fall. “Developing nations face a significant problem as they don’t have any other way to shield their small and marginal farmers from the negative effects of import gluts or surges,” said a fourth respondent.

The person stated that India will only consent to a discussion on the subject of discipline and cutting back on domestic support for farmers, such as subsidies and other protections after historical asymmetries have been addressed and eliminated. This is because developed and non-democratic nations have opaque systems in place for supporting and subsidizing their farmers. He said, “Any discussion on trade-distorting domestic support should not undermine the AoA’s non-negotiable special and differential treatment provisions.”

Additionally, India disagrees with certain WTO members’ demands that export limitations on goods like rice, wheat, and onions be given prior notice. “The stabilization of domestic commodity prices and our food security depend on export limitations. The fourth individual said, “It cannot be informed well in advance since this would cause major market distortions.

He said that the large subsidies given to wealthy cotton growers in industrialized countries are rendering exports from developing countries uncompetitive, making the long-pending problem of disclosing cotton subsidies urgently need to be resolved.

Regarding the fishing problem, the first individual said that India opposes any multilateral restrictions on the activities of its nine million fishermen families. “Only if developed nations accept responsibility for undermining the wealth of global fisheries and agree to remove all subsidies they provide to distant deep-water fishing will the issue of overfishing be discussed at MC13,” he said.

India provides a meager $15 annual subsidy per family of fishermen, compared to the $75,000 that Western nations provide to a single fishing family. “It’s a trade and profit issue for them, but it’s a matter of survival and nutrition for us,” he said. In order to attain sustainability, he added, developed countries must atone for their transgressions under the concepts of shared but differentiated responsibility and polluter pays. Developed nations degraded fishing supplies by engaging in deep-water fishing.

According to the second source, India would also resist any attempt by a China-led group to use the MC13 to press investment as a trade issue and seek the end of the customs tax ban on online sales. A common statement on investment facilitation for development was unilaterally started by a number of members, and its content has been pushed for MC13.

“We do not want to acknowledge the custom of using joint declarations to advance agendas. Such actions weaken the WTO’s multilateral nature, the speaker stated. This issue is particularly significant for nations like India, which prohibit investments from hostile and nondemocratic nations like China and Pakistan.

According to him, although India is dedicated to promoting labor reforms, women’s empowerment, and the environment, it would not back developed countries’ attempts to exploit this multilateral trade platform to discuss non-trade matters and obliquely erect trade obstacles.

The multilateral trade system cannot succeed until an efficient, two-tier dispute resolution mechanism is established. “Trade rules developed at the WTO would be useless if they were not implemented, hence a robust adjudication mechanism is required to resolve disagreements between members. We want a robust two-tier structure, but wealthy nations are talking about tangential improvements,” he said.

While members may choose to resolve conflicts via mutually beneficial agreements, complex matters need adjudication and an appeals process in case a member is not happy with the outcome. WTO’s dispute resolution body is on the verge of dissolution due to US obstruction of appellate body member selections, which began in December 2019.

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