Govt set to pitch for grain sales from public stockholding at WTO meet

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Govt set to pitch for grain sales from public stockholding at WTO meet

The Centre’s comments are significant as the G7 countries have criticised India’s ban on wheat exports

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foodgrain sales | WTO meet | WTO

India will strongly pitch for foodgrain sales from public stockholdings to address the global food crisis, like those in wheat, at the WTO 12th Ministerial Conference at Geneva, beginning next week.

Dammu Ravi, secretary (economic relations) at the external affairs ministry, said: “It is crucial to revisit the agriculture debate. The rules-based trading system should be made more flexible to facilitate solutions to assist countries needing food, fertiliser and all the components of the food system.”

His comments are significant as the G7 countries have criticised India’s ban on wheat exports, claiming it will exacerbate food shortages.

A Bloomberg report said that the decision to ban wheat exports from India is thwarting international efforts to combat rising food prices. “At the end of the day they are making matters worse,” European Union Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Worse for the most vulnerable countries — exactly those who need support during this food security crisis.”

Ravi made the comments at a seminar to bring G7 and G20 positions on such issues closer, organised by RIS and the embassy of Germany in New Delhi this week.

ALSO READ: India could soon allow wheat exports of 1.2 million tonnes: Report

Unstated in the debate is the concern in Europe that the lack of wheat supply from Ukraine and Russia could raise the price of the basic cereal in the continent. The FAO food price index has been rising steadily since February.

India is facing stiff opposition about its ban on export of wheat. Ravi said the blowback is unfair since the WTO rules do not allow for export of wheat from India’s public stockholding. It is considered illegal even though the price at which the grain starved countries could buy it shall be a boon for them.

As per the WTO rules, a country can buy and stock foodgrains from its farmers, but those cannot be exported. For that to happen, the country must allow other countries to also sell their grains to India.

The G7 is insisting that if India has to sell its wheat from its stockholding it should only be to the UN-run World Food Programme. The body shall then decide how to apportion the stock among the countries that need the grain but have low paying power. India has instead decided it will sell the wheat as per bilateral deals to countries that ask for the wheat directly.

However, at the seminar, Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary, Germany, said it is vital to build trust in international cooperation to address these issues. “More sustainable support to developing countries could come through open knowledge-exchange platforms such as the Global Alliance for Food Security by involving countries, think-tanks, research institutions and civil society organizations, and by bringing out tailor-made solutions that are appropriate to each country in need.”

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