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Non-contributing countries seek ban on export curbs on World Food Programme

While nearly 81 World Trade Organisation member countries led by Singapore are seeking a ban on export restrictions for the World Food Programme at the ongoing ministerial meeting taking place in Geneva, data shows that most of them have not contributed to the United Nation’s programme.

Although India has been opposing such a move to restrict its policy space to ensure domestic food security, it contributes to the WFP, and in fact was the highest contributor in 2015.

Thirty-three countries have never contributed to the WFP, including Singapore, New Zealand, Albania, Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Taiwan.

It is suspected that traders in some of these countries are pressing for the ban on export restrictions, as these lead to price increases.

“Since most of the procurement and delivery of WFP is in the developing countries, the unconnected countries calling for a decision on export restrictions is very strange… it is similar to tropical countries asking for a change of rule in the game of ice hockey a game they never play. If ice hockey rules have to change, those playing nations have to be consulted,” said a government official.

Incidentally, the WFP has in all official documents stated issues with funding and not issues with export restrictions.

The WTO draft proposal-World Food Programme Food Purchases Exemption from Export Prohibitions or Restrictions – aims to curb export restrictions on foodstuff for the World Food Programme (WFP). But, there is a safeguard in the draft proposal that says that the decision would not prevent members to adopt export restrictive measures to ensure its domestic food security.

India has been opposing any binding commitment under the WTO to provide blanket exemptions from export curbs for food purchases by the WFP would restrict India’s policy space to deal with domestic food security concerns.

The proposal will come up for discussion on Monday and Tuesday at the ongoing WTO ministerial in Geneva. India is also seeking allowing exports from public food stocks for the purposes of international food aid, or for non-commercial humanitarian purposes including on a government-to-government basis. However, that has not made it to the draft.

India’s demand for an outcome on a permanent solution on public stockholding has also been deferred to the next ministerial meeting with only the Work Programme to be decided this time.

Ranja Sengupta of the Third World Network pointed out the proposal raises questions if the decision will actually achieve anything and whether it was really needed.

“Besides, the issue is of little consequence compared to the mammoth challenge of assuring long-term food security to the poor and hungry, especially those in developing countries… and Least Developed Countries. The WTO Membership needs to look beyond short-term band-aid solutions and address structural issues including the very inequitable rules of the Agreement on Agriculture to ensure food security, especially for developing countries…and LDCs,” said Sengupta.

She added that a permanent solution on public stockholding, which India has been strongly demanding was more relevant in addressing the issue of food security. “Public stockholding programmes are also a major tool across developing countries and least developed countries for ensuring domestic food security and dealing with humanitarian crises… Without supporting production and farmers, consumption and food security cannot be supported just by depending on a volatile, concentrated and uncertain global market, the same challenges that the WFP is itself facing. So if the WFP Decision is granted a permanent outcome, why not PSH,” questioned Sengupta.

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