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Suresh Prabhu seeks cut in large farm subsidies of developed countries at WTO meet

Suresh Prabhu seeks cut in large farm subsidies of developed countries at WTO meet

NEW DELHI: India has sought a cut in the huge farm subsidies given by developed countries in a move to reduce distortions in global agricultural trade and also raised the issue of protecting its poor farmers’ interests, end hunger and achieve food security at the two day mini ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Marrakech on October 9-10. 

Commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu who led discussions on behalf of the developing world, also reiterated India's commitment to the Doha Round that seeks to put in place a global agreement to lower trade barriers. 

"He pointed out that any meaningful reform in agriculture must first seek to reduce the disproportionately large subsidies of the developed countries," said the commerce ministry in a release on Wednesday. 

India and China have said the subsidies given by developed members including the US, EU and Canada under a flexibility in the WTO norms amount to nearly US$ 160 billion which is more than 90% of the total global entitlements "resulting in a major asymmetry in the rules on agriculture trade.

Prabhu held bilaterals to push India's trade issues including those on public stock holding to safeguard the interests of its low income-resource poor farmers and ensure food security to the poor and emphasised that these must be part of the outcome of the ministerial in December. 

"The minister pushed the agenda on behalf of India and the developing world...WTO director general in private agreed with the points put forward," said an official in the know. 

India's demands on the farm front are important as the number of people dependent on agriculture in one way or another is close to 600 million, with nearly 98% of Indian farmers being low income or resource poor and mostly engaged in subsistence farming. 

Fisheries, Other issues 
This informal gathering of 35 key countries is crucial in the run up to the ministerial conference of the WTO in December to provide political impetus to the negotiations and guidance on potential outcomes.

Since the previous ministerial in Nairobi failed to get a clear consensus on the future of the Doha development agenda, India reiterated its stance to first deal with the issues which were already under negotiation, before moving on to new ones. as developed countries like the US, EU and Japan and a few developing ones like Singapore are opposed to these and want new subjects like e-commerce, investment facilitation, fisheries and MSMEs (Micro, small and medium enterprises) to brought in the ambit of WTO's multilateral discourse. 

However, on the issue of fisheries subsidies, India stressed on the importance of suitable special and differential treatment provisions and the need to make a clear distinction between large scale commercial fishing and traditional fishing. WTO countries are trying to negotiate an agreement to cut subsidies given for fishing activities. 

Though India is already discussing fisheries subsidies and an outcome is likely on the issue, Prabhu pointed out that in India a large number of small, largely resource poor fish workers depended on traditional fishing activity as a source of livelihood. Hence, developing countries like India, possessing very low fishing capacity, would also need to retain policy space to promote and create such capacity. 


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