India has every reason to be worried about the World Trade Organisation’s trade facilitation agreement which will have to cross a major hurdle in its implementation by July-end. Since the WTO takes all its decisions through a consensus process among its 160-member nations, they will have to approve a single-paragraph “accession protocol”. It was at the WTO’s meeting at Bali in Indonesia in December last that they reached the agreement which commits the member nations to streamline the flow of goods through borders worldwide. As of now, there are serious problems in trade relations. For instance, a new car manufactured in Germany has to be dismantled before it can be sent to its dealer in the US.
While resolution of such problems is in the interest of global trade, there are certain imponderables which a country like India cannot afford to ignore. At the last WTO meeting, India was asked to relent on its stand that its food security programme was non-negotiable. When it did not budge, an exception was made in India’s case and a new deadline was given for compliance. The WTO wants India to dismantle its food procurement and food stockpiling programmes which are necessary to meet the food needs of tens of millions of people. To call it subsidy is not to understand the specific needs of the country. Even European countries and the US subsidise their farming operations indirectly to retain their competitive edge.
The accession protocol is the initiative of the developed nations, mainly to boost trade and surmount the problems of their economies. India must tell the WTO of the need for immediate, intensive negotiations over the unresolved food security issue to settle it once and for all. There is no need to wait till 2017. India must insist that unless its genuine concerns are addressed urgently, it can’t support the one-sided agreement the US and the West have been trying to impose. If necessary, it must muster the support of other BRICS nations and developing countries.