U.S. civil society groups back India’s stand at WTO

Original Publication Date: 
13 December, 2015
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US Civil society letter to USTR Michael Froman - December 11, 2015.pdf40.11 KB

Arun S

India’s demand that the World Trade Organization (WTO) take steps, on a priority basis, to safeguard the interests of poor farmers as well as the food security programmes in developing countries has received support within the U.S.

Several prominent U.S.-based civil society organisations including World Food Program USA, Oxfam America and ActionAid USA have asked Washington to agree to support the developing countries' demands on food security and poor farmer issues.

Ministers from 162 member countries of the WTO will gather at the Kenyan capital during December 15-18 for negotiations meant for a deal to open up global trade.

The developed world, including the US, is learnt to be keen on introducing 'new' issues (such as e-commerce, global value chains, labour, competition and environment) of their interest during the Nairobi meet, instead of taking forward the ongoing Doha Round negotiations, which has a ‘development’ agenda.

India is one of the leading developing countries wanting the Nairobi meet to take up on priority negotiations on an effective Special Safeguard Mechanism (or SSM, a trade remedy allowing developing countries to temporarily increase duties to counter sudden import surges or price falls of farm items, thereby protecting poor farmers), and a permanent solution to the issue of public food stockholding in developing countries for food security purposes. India has also sought a drastic reduction of 'trade distorting' farm subsidies of the developed countries.

Functional SSM

In a recent letter to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman, these US-based NGOs urged him to ensure that the U.S. supports a 'functional' SSM, without making that support dependent on other concessions on market access.

They pointed out that import surges of farm products are a documented reality under the current rules and not a prospective risk should further market access be granted. They, therefore, wanted the US to support developing country efforts to confront volatility in international markets for agricultural goods.

These civil society groups also included Action Against Hunger, Bread for the World, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Mercy Corps, American Jewish World Service and Church World Service.

They urged the US to agree to a developing country group proposal on a permanent solution to the issue of food stocks programmes to support food security. “No country should be prevented from supporting programmes to ensure local food production to feed their people, something that is likely to become even more critical in an era of climate change,” according to a letter written by them to the USTR.

In line with India's demands, they asked the US to agree to the revision of the baseline figures on public spending on agriculture so that they reflect current prices and are sufficiently flexible to cope with differing levels of inflation. Countries that now provide more support to their farmers than in the past (although still at dramatically lower levels per capita than in the US) should not be prevented from doing so by outdated rules that reference no longer relevant data.

Monetisation of food aid

These civil society groups also asked Washington to agree to the modest disciplines proposed by the EU and others on the US practice of monetising international food aid, which, they said, has a high risk of disrupting local markets for small-scale producers.

They urged the US to support a transparent and inclusive multilateral process to resolve these pressing issues, adding that calling on countries to simply abandon multilateralism and accede to other mega-regional or plurilateral agreements that do not reflect their interests is no solution.