Farmers and CSOs express concern over WTO conditionalities on Indias agricultural subsidy regime

Original Publication Date: 
25 November, 2014
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Indian Farmers and CSO response Indias position at the WTO 25 Nov.pdf61.25 KB

Today in a letter (see attached) to Hon'ble Commerce and Industry Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman Indian farmers organizations and civil society groups expressed serious concern over India - US agreement over public stockholding issue at the WTO negotiation. The letter also argued that the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) needs to be rejected not only as a strategy but on its own lack of merit as it would lead to moving resources away from essential development expenditure whereas our industry is hardly ready to reap the benefits of the Agreement at least in the near to medium future.

The letter was signed by leaders of farmers organizations, representing lakhs of farmers, including Rakesh Tikait, Bhartiya Kissan Union Yudhvir Singh, Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movement, Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, Bhartiya Kissan Union, Punjab Chukki Nanjundaswamy, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Vijay Jawandhia, Shetkari Sangathana, Maharashtra Sella Mutthu, Tamilnadu Farmers Association, Tamil Nadu and Civil society networks and organizations including Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA).

Biraj Patnaik, Principal Adviser, Office of the Supreme Court Commissioners who is also active with the Right to Food Campaign in India expressed serious concern that the Peace Clause is limited to “existing programmes” and said that “this will limit the ability of India as well as other developing and least developed countries to put in place new programmes as these will not be covered by the Peace Clause. This is also a challenge to right to food Campaigns worldwide”.

Afsar Jafri from Focus on the Global South, India, expressed concern over bilateral deal for a multilateral issue and urged the Indian government to take along other developing countries in seriously pursuing a genuine Permanent Solution and also use this opportunity to address the historical inequities in the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) and the unfair subsidies given by the developed countries who are now pointing fingers at us.

 Ranja Sengupta of the Third World Network India office stated that, “the heavy conditions imposed on the use of the Peace Clause are worrying. The Statement from the US representative Michael Froman that the Peace Clause ‘would depend on whether India’s foodgrain buffer programme met the conditions set in Bali’, vindicates this fear”.

Kavitha Kuruganti, Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) called upon the Government of India “to ensure a more democratic and transparent process that includes parliamentary oversight and consultations with state governments, major political parties, farmers groups, trade experts and civil society groups to develop a better understanding of their concerns and form appropriate policy responses”.

Yudhvir Singh, Convenor, Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements emphasized, as also expressed in the letter, that “since agriculture is a state subject, the union government must necessarily consult with state governments and evolve consensus. The government must also seriously review its position at the WTO and examine whether being in the WTO or agriculture being included in the WTO is worth it for India. Agriculture is way of life for Indian farers and not just a good to be traded”.

Calling upon the government to pursue meaningful Permanent Solution that actually attempts to redress the historical unfairness of the AoA the letter stated that the government should Introspect about India’s objective and value of being in the WTO and what influence it has on India’s independent policy space and specifically organise/undertake a 20 year assessment of India’s gains/losses from membership of WTO.

The CSO letter also said that while the “Government is at least trying to take an apparently pro-farmer and pro-poor position at the WTO, this stance is not consistent with its approach in domestic policy or in the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)”.

The letter also demanded that the government initiate a dialogue and discussion with major political parties, farmers groups, trade experts and civil society groups to keep them informed about developments at the WTO and to develop a better understanding and policy response.