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March 3, 2024

WTO Talks Conclude Without Resolution on Key Agricultural and Fisheries Subsidies Issues

The recent ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) concluded without reaching a consensus on crucial issues concerning agricultural subsidies and fisheries subsidies. Among the unresolved matters were India’s demand for a permanent solution to its Public Stockholding Programme (PSH) and efforts to curb subsidies contributing to overfishing and overcapacity.

Despite extensive discussions during the 13th ministerial conference, which extended beyond its scheduled end date due to disagreements, WTO members failed to find common ground on issues vital to India’s interests. The PSH programme, which involves government procurement of crops like rice and wheat at minimum support prices (MSP) for distribution to the poor, remained a sticking point.

Ranja Sengupta, Senior Researcher and Legal Advisor at Third World Network, expressed disappointment over the failure to deliver on longstanding mandates related to public stockholding, the Special Safeguard Mechanism, and disciplines on cotton subsidies. The Cairns group, including countries like Australia and Brazil, contended that public stockholding distorts markets and advocated against export restrictions, while food-importing nations like Japan and Singapore sought predictability in farm policies.

Meanwhile, the US pressed for market access for its agricultural commodities, while the EU pushed for reductions in subsidies. Adam Wolfenden, Deputy Coordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalisation, criticized the lack of meaningful cuts to subsidies for large-scale distant water fishing fleets, highlighting the refusal of major fishing nations to accept responsibility.

In addition to the impasse on agricultural and fisheries subsidies, India and South Africa blocked a proposal on investment facilitation led by China, citing it as beyond the WTO mandate. India also opposed a European Union proposal on industrial policy. Despite these setbacks, the conference achieved some outcomes, including new disciplines on domestic regulation for services and the formal inclusion of Comoros and Timor-Leste as WTO members.

For India, updating the external reference prices used to calculate market price support in public stockholding remains a key priority. Developing nations, including India, advocated for amendments to the formula for calculating the food subsidy cap, urging a shift from outdated reference prices based on 1986-88 benchmarks.

As WTO negotiations continue, unresolved issues regarding agricultural and fisheries subsidies underscore the complex challenges facing global trade governance and the urgent need for multilateral cooperation to address them.

Rajan Shukla

Rajan Shukla

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