India’s food security discussed at WTO amidst Covid-19 pandemic

Jannie Delucca

With pretty much all financial routines possible to keep on being at a reduced critical in the coming months, the Covid-19 pandemic could have a devastating impression on the livelihood and foods stability of tens of millions of individuals throughout India. It is frequently recognised that foods shares of fifty eight million tonnes with the FCI will be an important variable in encouraging the authorities prevent a probable crisis. Having said that, what is not sufficiently appreciated by many, is that the foods shares exist partly on account of deft negotiations by India on the issue of foods stability at the WTO for the duration of 2013-fourteen. In these complicated instances, when many nations around the world are possible to confront foods shortages, this component deserves dialogue.

India implements a price tag-help-backed public stockholding programme to safeguard the interests of equally its buyers and farmers. Below this policy, the authorities procures foods grains from farmers at bare minimum help price tag (MSP), and thereafter distributes it at subsidised costs to the vulnerable sections of culture by the public distribution procedure (PDS) and other welfare schemes. Thus, procurement at MSP, stockholding and distribution to suitable homes type the a few integral parts of India’s foods stability framework.

Having said that, WTO procedures restrict India’s capability to create its foods inventory as the procurement of foods grains at MSP is issue to demanding limitations. Below these limitations, the quantity of help on account of procurement of foods grains at MSP are unable to exceed 10 per cent of the value of production of the procured item. Pretty much two decades ago, India’s trade negotiators experienced predicted that the policy house to apply MSP could be severely curtailed on account of this obligation. Retaining the elbow area to apply the MSP, therefore, became an important negotiating aim at the WTO.

Right after protracted negotiations lasting much more than a ten years, WTO customers adopted a final decision at the Bali Ministerial Convention in 2013 on public stockholding for foods stability uses. In the nature of an interim answer, this final decision makes it possible for producing customers to invoke the peace clause, which safeguards their public stockholding programmes for foods stability uses from legal problem, even if they direct to a breach of commitments. As there was some ambiguity about the duration of the Bali Selection, a complementary final decision taken by the WTO customers in 2014 permits the peace clause to be obtainable right up until a long-lasting answer to the issue of foods stability is negotiated. Thus, the peace clause could theoretically carry on in perpetuity. The gains from this hard-fought fight are apparent now.


In its most latest domestic help notification dated March 31, 2020, India has taken recourse to the peace clause, as the item-certain help to rice was 11.forty six per cent in 2018-19. This presents an assurance to the authorities that the MSP scheme for rice, making certain foods stability for tens of millions, can be ongoing without any legal problem at the WTO. If the nation experienced not pushed for the peace clause, then the possibility of making foods shares to tackle emergencies, this kind of as what we are grappling with right now, would have been considerably diminished.

The peace clause, although a favourable step toward making certain foods stability, incorporates onerous transparency and safeguard ailments and is restricted in its scope and coverage. For instance, only conventional staple crops are covered by it, that also underneath programmes that have been in existence in 2013. From the producing countries’ viewpoint, the long-lasting answer must tackle these shortcomings of the peace clause, and at the same time be reliable with their socio-financial realities.

The part of a price tag-help-backed foods stability policy are unable to be underestimated in the battle against starvation, particularly in the latest pandemic where tens of millions are facing livelihood and foods insecurity concerns. It would have been particularly complicated to be certain foods stability for 800 million of the Indian populace by importing foods grains in this world-wide crisis, much more so when nations around the world are imposing export restrictions to preserve critical foods commodities inside their borders. Moreover, we need to don’t forget that it was this policy that served India escape the inflationary impression of the 2008 foods crisis ― a time when many nations around the world have been plagued by foods riots.

In conclusion, in the battle against starvation, the world-wide community wants to value nation-certain foods stability guidelines, alternatively than constrain them with unviable limitations underneath WTO procedures. Other than India, many nations around the world which includes Indonesia, Kenya, Zambia, Egypt, Malawi and Pakistan apply identical guidelines to be certain foods stability. No question, the peace clause gets important and suitable for these nations around the world. Having said that, Covid-19 is a stark reminder that the already battered WTO could further eliminate its relevance in the coming years, if it fails to conclude the negotiations for a long-lasting answer to the trouble of foods stability in producing nations around the world.

(Sachin Kumar Sharma is Associate Professor and Adeet Dobhal is Exploration Fellow at the Centre for WTO Research, IIFT. Views expressed are personal.)

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