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AGRICULTURE : WTO MINISTERS CLINCH "INTERIM" DEAL ON FOOD SECURITY SCHEMES.

Following four days of tough WTO-led negotiations, which were prolonged till the early morning of 7 December, consensus was reached on the food security scheme - one of major stumbling blocks for the so-called Bali package (see separate article). A group of developing countries led by India managed to get approval for the extension by at least four years of the current derogation, which allows them to subsidise certain crops to bolster food security. To this end, an "interim mechanism" was put in place until a "final solution" is found by the 11th WTO's ministerial conference in 2017 that would allow India and other developing countries to continue to apply the current subsides for traditional staple food crops so long as the practice does not distort international trade.

"In the interim, until a permanent solution is found [ ] members shall refrain from challenging through the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism compliance of a developing member [ ] in relation to support provided for traditional staple food crops," the agreement reads.

In other words, for the next four years, India will not face any penalties for breaching the current farm subsidy cap of 10% of the value of total production (Uruguay Round) so long as stocks procured under its food security programme "do not distort trade or adversely affect the food security of other members," according to the agreement.

"It is a victory for the WTO and for the global community to have arrived at a mature decision," Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma told reporters. "We are more than happy. It is a great day. It is a historic day."

Until the last moment India, backed by South Africa and other developing countries, had been trying to resist a push by a number of developed countries, such as the US and the EU, for a so-called peace clause limiting immunity to four years. The final agreement, as interpreted by New Delhi, guarantees India the immunity, even after the four-year period set for finding a permanent solution (as long as the ministers fail to reach an agreement in 2017 and later). The text introduces, however, certain safeguards, according to a source, that were requested by developed countries. It specifically mentions that the food security schemes should not affect trade or food security in other countries. Moreover, the peace clause only applies to existing schemes, thereby addressing fears that other countries (eg China) would introduce similar programmes in the next four years to take advantage of the "interim solution".

"What the debate has really been about is ensuring that national choices on farm policy do not harm other countries' farmers or food security. I believe we have found a form of language which respects this," Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos told the press after the deal was clinched.

Just symbolic progress was made on two other agricultural issues. On tariff rate quota (TRQ) administration, the agreement provides for stricter transparency rules and clearer obligations for developed countries to provide market access where TRQs are consistently under-filled. On export subsidies, the parties committed to eliminating export refunds in future.

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Publication:Europe Environment
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 13, 2013
Words:509
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