India talks tough at WTO Bali

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India has made it clear that it will not budge from its stand on the issue of food security, refusing to buckle under pressure from developed nations keen on securing a global trade deal at the ninth WTO Ministerial meeting, in Bali.

The sharp differences with the developed world have reduced the prospects for an agreement. "Bali package must be substantive and historical imbalances in trade rules must be corrected in order to ensure a fair and equitable order," commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma said at the plenary session of the conference in the Indonesian island on Wednesday.

New Delhi clearly indicated it would not support the developed world proposal on trade facilitation, which seeks to impose harsh rules on member countries in respect of the way trade is carried out, unless demands on food security are met. "We consider it premature to lend support to an inconclusive trade facilitation agreement," Sharma said, asserting governments' right to provide food to poor. Governments of all developing nations have a legitimate obligation and moral commitment toward the food and livelihood security of hundreds of millions of their poor, the minister told the highest decision-making body of the consensus-based WTO. "For India, food security is non-negotiable," the minister said.

India's stance is seen as a stumbling block in reaching a deal, with developed countries blaming New Delhi for showing no flexibility. Sharma refuted this and said India has engaged with other nations in the Doha Round over the last 12 years with a strong development mandate and has cited the centrality of food security, livelihood security, and rural development in trade negotiations. He said there was just a half-baked agricultural package, statements of pious intent for least developed countries (LDCs) and several unresolved issues in the trade facilitation agenda on the table at the current juncture.

None of these texts require the developed countries to make binding commitments for the benefit of developing countries and in contrast, developing countries would be required to undertake significant commitments in trade facilitation, he said. "If this imbalance in the Bali package is not redressed, the world at large would accuse all of us of collectively making hollow promises and keeping the tank empty on development content," he cautioned. 

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