Source: The Hitavada      Date: 16 Dec 2017 12:10:49

GIVEN the rigid stand of the United States on the issue of finding a permanent solution to public stock holding of foodgrains for ensuring food security prior to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires, it was a foregone conclusion that the talks would collapse. Predictably the United States refused to join the talks on finding a permanent solution to the issue of holding food stocks, leading to the meeting ending without any result on the vexed issue that has a huge bearing on the food security of most developing countries. Naturally it has come as a huge disappointment for India and China, who are jointly fighting the cause of developing countries at the WTO. 

At the last ministerial meeting at Bali in 2013, all members of the WTO had agreed to find a permanent solution to the issue of public stock holding of foodgrains by developing countries which have to cater to the needs of the poor and the starving populations, especially in the African continent where starvation and malnutrition are endemic. By that resolution all members, including the United States, had agreed not to challenge the right of the developing countries to hold public stocks of foodgrains till a permanent solution to the issue was found and the decision was left to be decided by the Beunos Aires conclave.

Ever since the beginning of the Buenos Aires meet, there were indications that the United States would not agree to the demand of the developing countries. And on Thursday the fears of the developing countries came true. What the United States is merely interested in is protecting its own trading interests in its agriculture sector. Hence it insists that developing countries should not be allowed to hold stocks beyond ten per cent of the value of foodgrains based on 1986-88 prices. Since price movement is never static, it is unreasonable to peg the limit to the price level of thirty or more years. This entails a serious blow to the food security programme of developing countries like India.

Despite its surplus foodgrains production, the major concern for India is feeding its 600 million poor people, while the United States’ principal concern is protection of its trade interests. For India and China and for that matter for most developing countries, many of which are perpetually under the ominous shadow of severe droughts and floods, feeding the starving and malnourished populace is a prime concern, a humanitarian concern.

If these millions are to be fed, food has to be made available to them at highly subsidised rates.
Here business concerns or monetary loss becomes inconsequential and commerce gets the back seat. Providing cheap and even free food to the millions of needy people worldwide is a humanitarian issue which cannot be weighed in terms of profit and loss. But the United States is the only member at the WTO which refuses to have consideration for such humanitarian issues, weighing everything from the prism of commercial interest. Hence, led by India and China, if the rest of the developing countries are disappointed at the rigid stand of the United States that is quite understandable.

Similarly, while the United States has been providing subsidies to its agriculture sector through various means and forms, it has been opposing subsidies on farm inputs by other countries to keep its prices of farm produce competitive in international market and dominate global trade. Nevertheless, on its own, the Indian Government is taking measures to reduce the component of subsidy in the farm sector and is laying stress on providing direct benefit to only the needy and deserving farmers to avoid misuse of Governmental help. It must be understood that subsidy is part of the policy to ensure food security.