India expects space at Nairobi for a decision on public stock holding of food grains

Next week’s Nairobi Ministerial Conference (MC) of the WTO is critical for India. First of all, the trade promoting body doesn’t have a serious issue as its pre-ministerial work programme indicates. So far not much preparatory discussions were conducted on any of the trade matters. Secondly, the WTO has to t settle India’s food subsidy issue by the eleventh MC. Hence India may get an opportunity and sufficient time at the MC to its pressing demand for giving food procurement a concessional treatment.

Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has asked the WTO to honour decisions taken at Bali on food procurement. “The grievance is that many things which are part of the development agenda don’t have a work programme. Even after Bali in 2013, there is no work programme like there was for trade facilitation agreement.” Ms Sitharaman observed about the lack of adequate pre MC discussions for Nairobi.

India at Bali agreed on trade facilitation as a condition for allowing the country’s food subsidy programme and offered to settle the issue within the next four years. India and other developing countries under the G 33 are pressurizing to get concessional treatment on food security linked food subsidy programme.

 As per the Bali package, India’s demand for allowing public stock holding of food for food security purpose will be permanently settled by the Eleventh MC. At Bali’s extended meeting, New Delhi has agreed to trade facilitation as a reciprocal gesture for having a favorable treatment on food subsidy front.  

Available developments before Nairobi indicate that the developed countries are planning to introduce new and broader issues as usual. This time they may bring environment, government procurement, competition policy etc at Nairobi. Climatic change and the energy got at Paris COP may encourage them to bring environment under the trade discussions.  

But many of these issues were rejected at the Cancun Ministerial Conference after strong opposition from the developing countries.

Another deficient factor before the December meeting is lack of work on the Doha Development Agenda. Even nearly 15 years after the Doha MC, trade related development issues of the developing countries remain unsettled and unconcluded and it may continue to be so at Nairobi also.