WTO pays best tribute to Mandela; green signal to food security
by Ashok B Sharma on 09 Dec 2013 2 Comments

The midnight of December 6/7 of 2013 will be remembered as an historic day, marking India’s success in trade diplomacy. Also the world leaders paid the best tribute to the leader of the anti-apartheid movement and former South African President Nelson Mandela who passed away on December 6 by reaching an accord at the 9th WTO Ministerial in Bali allowing developing countries to continue with food security programmes for the poor.


India has shown the way how trade diplomacy can work to its final conclusion. After five days of hectic parleys, running beyond the original schedule, the trade negotiators could eventually come out with the historic Bali Package defending the inalienable rights of the developing countries to food security and related public stockholding of food.


The WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo is perhaps the happiest man. “For the first time in our history: the WTO has truly delivered” since its inception in 1995, he said. This was possible due to the strategy adopted by India by taking up the onus of defending itself when its ambitious food security programme came under attack from the US and the European Union.


Sensing the fissures emerging within G-33, a coalition of 46 developing countries, the Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry, Anand Sharma, missed no chance in networking with the developing and least developed countries, particularly African nations, and engaging with the US Trade Representative Michael Froman, WTO DG Azevedo and the WTO Ministerial Chair and Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan. After apprising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh twice about the developments, Sharma told the USTR Froman to seek a fresh mandate from President Obama to support the draft prepared by India and not come in the way of its food security programme. The USTR found no other way but to oblige Sharma.


Sharma was determined to defend India’s Food Security Programme, the flagship programme of the ruling UPA coalition. With the country is gearing up for polls in the first half of 2014, he had no other option but to put up a brave fight.


As soon as the Bali Ministerial started, Indonesia, the Chair of G-33 coalition, began to dither on the issue of food security, as it thought that US would not budge from its stance and hence the Ministerial will not be able to deliver.


Even Pakistan tried to pull down India’s demand for food security concerns saying that the procurement of food grains from farmers at minimum support prices (MSPs) and subsequent public stockholdings tend to distort global trade. This was expected as Pakistan belongs to both G-33 and the Cairns group that pushes aggressive trade liberalization in agriculture.


But Sharma was confident that no deal could be clinched without emerging economies like Brazil and China being at the high table. The emerging economies are decisive players in the world today. Sharma’s networking skills with the developing and least developed countries, particularly the African nations, helped to make the 9th WTO Ministerial in Bali a historic one after the 4th WTO Ministerial in Doha in 2001 gave birth to Doha Development Agenda.


As per the accord reached in Bali after midnight of December 6/7, India and other developing countries will have no problem in rendering support to food security programmes and farmers for four years, even if it breaches the 10% cap in their aggregate measures of support (AMS) under the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA). This being an interim arrangement, the final decision on food security programme will be taken at the 11th WTO Ministerial. “Members agree to put in place an interim mechanism as set out below, and to negotiate on an agreement for a permanent solution for the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes for adoption by the 11th Ministerial Conference,” the draft said.


It further clarified :  “In the interim, until a permanent solution is found, and provided that the conditions set out below are met, Members shall refrain from challenging through the WTO Dispute Settlement  Mechanism, compliance of a developing Member with its obligations under Articles 6.3 and 7.2 (b)  of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) in relation to support provided for traditional staple food crops in pursuance of public stockholding programmes for food security purposes existing as of  the date of this Decision, that are consistent with the criteria of paragraph 3, footnote 5, and footnote 5&6 of Annex 2 to the AoA when the developing Member complies with the terms of this Decision.”


Apart from food security concerns, the Bali Ministerial approved the Trade Facilitation Agreement that could induce $1 trillion into global economy by reduced transaction costs on account of streamlining custom procedures. Developing countries will be given financial assistance and adequate time for implementing these measures.


Concerns of a small group of countries - Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela - about embargoes delayed consensus on the package until a compromise was struck in the form of a sentence upholding the principle of non-discrimination in goods in transit was added to the final declaration.


The Bali package focuses on various issues related to development, including food security in developing countries and cotton and a number of other provisions for least developed countries. The package also includes a political commitment to reduce export subsidies in agriculture and keep them at low levels, and to reduce obstacles to trade when agricultural products are imported through quotas.


On development issues, Bali Ministerial agreed for duty-free, quota-free access for least developed countries to export to richer countries’ markets. Many countries have already implemented this, and the decision says countries that have not done so for at least 97% of products “shall seek to” improve the number of products covered.


It also agreed for simplified preferential rules of origin for least developed countries, making it easier for these countries to identify products as their own goods, and qualify for preferential treatment in importing countries.  A “services waiver”, allowing least developed countries preferential access to richer countries’ services markets was also agreed upon.


It was also agreed to set up a monitoring mechanism consisting of meetings and other methods for monitoring special treatment given to developing countries.


Regarding intellectual property rights, members agreed not to bring “non-violation” cases to the WTO dispute settlement process — “non-violation“ is shorthand for the technical question of whether there can be legal grounds for complaint about loss of an expected right under the WTO’s intellectual property agreement, even when the agreement has not been violated.


A similar extension was agreed in electronic commerce, members agreed not to charge import duties on electronic transmissions. The Work Programme also encourages continued discussions on electronic commerce in relation to commercial issues, development and new technology.


Ministers decided to give special consideration to issues of small economies. Ministers instructed the Committee on Trade and Development to consider proposals on small economies and make recommendations to the General Council.


Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to Aid for Trade, an initiative that assists developing countries, and in particular least developed countries’ trade. They welcomed progress on Aid for Trade since its launch in 2005 and mandated the Director-General to continue support of the programme.


Ministers directed their Geneva delegations to continue examining the link between trade and transfer of technology and make possible recommendations on steps that might be taken to increase flows of technology to developing countries. The mandate was given at the 2001 Doha declaration.

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top