Food security: US, EU rule out permanent solution for public stock holding programmes

7 November, 2015

D. Ravi Kanth

During a meeting with African leaders last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pitched for a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security

Geneva: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for an outcome on public stockholding programmes for food security at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ministerial meeting next month in Nairobi has almost been spiked after the US, the European Union, Canada and Australia ruled out any change from the existing interim arrangement.

That temporary solution was hammered out between the US and India last year. The two sides also agreed they would negotiate a permanent solution along with other members of WTO by the 10th ministerial meeting, which is now beginning on 15 December in Nairobi.

During a meeting with African leaders last month, Modi said, “We should achieve a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security and the special safeguard mechanism in agriculture for developing countries.”

On Thursday, at a closed-door meeting convened by the chair for Doha agriculture negotiations Vangelis Vitalis with select trade envoys for negotiating a permanent solution, India’s trade envoy Anjali Prasad spoke about Modi’s statement saying New Delhi wants a permanent solution at the Nairobi meeting, according to people familiar with the meeting who declined to be named.

Prior to her intervention at the meeting, US trade envoy Michael Punke said it is difficult to arrive at a permanent solution by the Nairobi ministerial meeting. Punke also said members cannot agree to watering-down the existing interim solution, according to a participant from an African country.

Punke expressed disappointment over the lack of engagement on their proposal, which dealt with the efficacy and trade effects of the existing public stockholding programmes for food security policies.

Last year, the G-33 group of developing nations which includes India, Indonesia, China, Kenya, Egypt, and other developing countries, presented a detailed proposal on how to arrive at a permanent solution for public stockholding programmes for food security.

The G-33 offered three options to address the problem. First, adding a new paragraph to include market price support for food security in the so-called green box disciplines of the agreement on agriculture that are exempted from any subsidy reduction commitments. Second, modifying the existing rules to ensure that the acquisition of food stocks by developing countries to support low-income and resource-poor farmers is not required to be calculated under the current method of calculating aggregate measurement of support (AMS, or trade-distorting farm subsidies). And third, modifying or amending the rules to calculate subsidies based on the so-called external reference period of 1986-88 prices, which was decided during the previous Uruguay Round of negotiations.

The 2008 revised draft modalities prepared by the former chair for Doha agriculture negotiations (New Zealand) had proposed the requisite changes to ensure that “there is no requirement for difference between the acquisition price and the external reference price to be accounted for in the AMS”.

At the meeting, Canada flatly opposed the permanent solution on the ground that including market price support programmes in the so-called WTO’s green box is a “red line”. Canada said the proponents seeking permanent solution have not explained why the interim solution is not a good starting point to implement the scheme.

The European Union rejected incorporating market price support schemes underpinning the public stockholding programmes in the green box. As time is short for the Nairobi ministerial meeting, there cannot be a deliverable on the permanent solution, the EU’s trade envoy Marc Vanheukelen told his counterparts, according to people present at the meeting.

Australia asked whether the G-33 farm coalition is ready to find alternatives outside the green box. Pakistan, Paraguay and Colombia supported the US, the EU, Canada and Australia saying that there cannot be any outcome at Nairobi.

In sharp rebuttal, India, along with other members of the G-33 coalition led by Indonesia, asked why the opponents to their proposal cannot come up with a counter proposal if they have specific problems. Prasad told her US counterpart that while the proposal submitted by the members of the G-33 group is very much part of the Bali mandate, the US’s proposal is outside the Bali declaration.

Several G-33 members expressed concern over the lack of engagement and the continued stonewalling tactics adopted by the US and other industrialized countries.

The chair said he would continue his consultations on a bilateral basis to explore how to arrive at an outcome, said a trade envoy who was present at the meeting.