India remained firm on its stance as World Trade Organization negotiations reached the third day in Bali.
As Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma ruled out any possibility of a compromise, whispers were already being heard of a possible collapse of the talks.
Edited excerpts from the minister’s press conference, which invited admiration as well as sharp criticism:
India has exceeded the de minimis requirements of the Uruguay round.
I would emphatically say we are not in breach.
I have said the Uruguay round was inherently flawed and unfairly balanced against poor and developing countries.
That is why we want the calculation not to be dated, but updated and brought up to the 21st century.
Does India run the risk of being challenged if there’s no deal in Bali?
Why are we negotiating then?
Why are we having any negotiations?
Then, this will also apply to trade facilitation.
Why do we have a multilateral trading organisation?
And, should we have decisions frozen in time?
We are negotiating because food prices have gone up, as I mentioned.
We are negotiating because there is a legal entitlement to food security.
This is primarily a sovereign right and a sovereign space.
But as a responsible nation, as a rule-based and rule-governed democracy, we are discussing this G33 proposal so that the rules and the agreements of the multilateral trade organisation are connected with the on-ground realities of the 21st century.
Unlike rich countries, our agriculture is rain-fed and the average land holding of a farmer is 1.2 acres, in a nation of 1.25 billion people.
These are the hard realities on the ground.
Is India taking this position due to the coming elections?
I think this is a misconception. Democracies don’t have only elections, but also principles and convictions.
This proposal emanates from the Hong Kong ministerial meeting in 2005. This is an old proposal.
India has not suddenly remembered the coming elections and pulled a rabbit out of the hat; that is not the case.
This is an eight-year-old proposal that has been discussed and re-discussed, negotiated and re-negotiated many times by those who are in the knowledge of developments.
Even after the near-collapse in June 2008, the Agreement on Agriculture continued to be negotiated and the G33 proposal is there in the draft text.
The G33 lowered its ambitions so that there was a consensus.
Will India be looked upon as the reason this ministerial failed?
Frankly, I find it very amusing that a country standing up for a right acknowledged by the UN, under the Millennium Development Goals, should be blamed for speaking for Right to Food security for hundreds of millions, or rather billions, of poor people on this planet.
We are not in conflict; we aren’t urging for a compromise, but a consensus on this fundamental issue.
Should it only be for the developing and poor countries to keep on compromising and show flexibility when the very right to life, that is, the right to food security, is connected with that?
Should it only be for the developing and poor countries who have have been asked to make binding commitments; here, a four-year grace period is unacceptable.
India speaks for the vast majority of poor countries and developing nations; India is not alone.
How many countries agree with India on continuing with the Peace Clause till a permanent solution is reached?
We aren’t having a vote here. I can only tell you the countries that have spoken up have more than two-thirds of the world’s population.
Who will lead to the collapse of the Bali talks? These are high-sounding words and very frightening.
There won’t be a collapse.
The WTO survives.
There have been past meetings at which there were no results.
Shall we ask who led to the collapse of those meetings?
We have not come here to lead to the collapse of any meeting.
India is committed to a positive outcome in Bali. It is a committed to a balanced and fair outcome, particularly in public stockholding and food security.
It is better to have no agreement then to have a bad agreement.
Is the US the main obstacle? Is it buckling down?
I am seeking a mature understanding with the US, the EU and other developed countries.
Will the issues be resolved in the next two days? Hear us; not the words, but the subject. I remain optimistic. We are being very reasonable.
We are only saying ‘please change the prices’; ‘please have an agreement that is fair and balanced’.
Some countries have complained India is using its domestic food security programme to export cheaper food and thus, distort trade.
We have public procurement of food grains through public funds for stockholding, to distribute it among the people entitled to food security.
The stocks thus procured, through public money, cannot be given to trade for export purposes.
If anybody ever tries to do that, before the cargo reaches the port, the individual or individuals concerned should be in the nearest prison cell.
India is the biggest exporter of rice and has record stocks of both rice and wheat. Recently, its government agency announced tenders for two million tonnes, at a reduced price. Are the distortion impact concerns not legitimate, particularly those raised by Pakistan?
That is not correct. Tenders are invited with the quotation of prices.
When people trade, rates are always quoted and there are global benchmarks.
Countries will buy or import what they need.
I don’t have any issues with Pakistan on this front. Pakistan exports rice, and so does India.
But the basmati rice there isn’t public procurement; it is high-quality rice that isn’t procured for food security or public distribution in a subsidised manner. When it comes to stockholding, it has to be seen in the correct perspective.
When I said under public procurement for public stockholding, it is only a percentage of the total food grains produced in India, including rice and wheat, which are procured by the state for subsidised food distribution, under Food Security entitlements.
By all accounts, this has never exceeded 30 per cent of the total food grains produced by the farmer.
Of India’s production, 70 per cent goes to the market, primarily the domestic market for trading purposes.
This is because if we produce 160-170 million tonnes, you can calculate 30 per cent of that; the rest is for open market trading, as is the case in any other country, while a part of it is exported.
Given the food security issue, is India now alone in G33?
That is not true.
The negotiations are closed and big countries with huge populations -- I can say more than 70 per cent of the global population lives in these countries -- stand by India on this issue.
What future do you see for WTO in case there is no agreement in Bali?
WTO does have a good future.
How can you say the heavens will fall if eight of the 10 proposed texts are adopted and two are negotiated?
Nothing is going to happen.
I do not know why a gloomy scenario is being painted.
Will WTO be saved only when I sign away our principles and the right to food security of the poor people?
Strengthening the WTO is a shared responsibility of all the members, developing and developed.
Those who are speaking up for the poor and hungry cannot be blamed.
Image: Anand Sharma