The United States has virtually wrecked India’s hopes of a better deal on its food security programme at the ongoing ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization, with Indian officials reportedly blaming the US of reneging on its commitments.
According to reports citing official sources, Assistant United States Trade Representative Sharon Bomer Lauritsen told a closed group meeting of countries involved in farm negotiations including India on Tuesday that the mandate from the US administration dictates that there be no outcome on agriculture.
This effectively means that the US will not offer any more relaxation on food security programmes as demanded by India and China along with others.
The development comes as a major blow to India’s fight to get a binding decision on the public stockholding of foodgrain, a key component of agriculture.
India wants to be able to purchase, stockpile and distribute food without being challenged in the trade body, something it says is crucial to protecting farmers and ensuring food security for the poor.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is scheduled to leave Buenos Aires on Tuesday, the penultimate day of the conference, which makes it almost certain that the ministerial has collapsed.
The move also makes the permanent solution for food security whose deadline is 2017 as per the Bali package. The US, Indian officials claimed, had committed to reaching a permanent solution on this in Bali, but have now backtracked.
India a developing country?
As talks remained inconclusive, India and US got embroiled in a war of words over the former’s developing nation status.
In an velied reference to India, US Trade Representative Lighthizer remarked that "there is something wrong, in our view, when five of the six richest countries in the world presently claim developing country status."
This was met by a sharp rebuttal from Commerce and Industry minister Suresh Prabhu.
“Despite being a country whose GDP may be rising fast, India is home to a large number of poor people and its per capita income is much lower than those of rich nations,” Prabhu countered.
Meanwhile, ministerial host Argentina is adamant that a decision be reached and insists that failure isn't an option.
The only way out for India now is through voting without the US, though that has never happened at the WTO where all decisions have been taken by consensus.
Experts said if all countries want a decision and the US is not on board, then decisions can be made through majority voting.