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India to seek foodgrain stockpiling solutions at WTO

By Subhayan Chakraborty
February 10, 2017 11:58 IST
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A legally vetted proposal on TFA on services would be submitted by India within the next few days.

India will send an expert team to World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva next month to place its demands for a permanent solution to stockpiling foodgrains and the proposed trade facilitation agreement on services.

Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday said the move was aimed at ensuring that member nations of WTO discussed them before the next ministerial conference in Argentina in December.

A legally vetted proposal on TFA on services would be submitted by India within the next few days, the minister said.

The proposal is being pushed by India since the services sector accounted for more than 60 per cent of GDP and 28 per cent of employment.

In the concept note circulated at WTO in September, India said the agreement could be based on TFA in goods, with suitable modification and adaptation for services.

Among other things, the proposal will suggest liberalising rules to facilitate the movement of professionals as well as reducing transaction costs.

Earlier in the day, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, who is on a two-day visit to India, had said that while discussions on the services trade were under way, more details were needed by member nations to fast-track talks.

Speaking at an event organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, Azevedo said the rising protectionist measures and growing voices against trade had resulted in international trade growth estimates ranging between 1.8 per cent and three per cent for 2017.

Earlier, the intergovernmental organisation had revised its estimates for growth in 2016 to just 1.7 per cent, the slowest since the financial crisis of 2009.

Officials said the focus of Azevedo’s India visit was to have talks on e-commerce. On Wednesday, Azevedo met leaders of companies such as Amazon, Paytm and Uber.

However, he said the meeting at the office of Bharti Enterprises Chairman Sunil Mittal revolved around the services trade as well as efforts to boost trade by medium and small enterprises.

The proposed global rules on e-commerce, which focus on easing restrictions on the sector, are being pushed by developed nations for some time now, instead of the more traditional development-based issues of the Doha round of negotiations, which are priority for developing countries. Sitharaman also raised India's concerns related to e-commerce, the special safeguards mechanism, fisheries and investments.

A permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding of foodgrains, repeatedly demanded by India, is yet to be achieved as negotiations continue.

Azevedo has said the G-33, which includes India, had submitted a proposal in this regard before the Geneva-based body.

However, he said that the proposal had not evolved over time and “I am not sure whether convergence can be found on the basis of that proposal without further revisions”.

For a permanent solution, India had proposed either amending the formula to calculate the food subsidy cap of 10 per cent, which is based on the reference price of 1986-88, or allowing such schemes outside the purview of subsidy caps. 

Photograph: Ajay Verma/Reuters.

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Subhayan Chakraborty
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