At Bali WTO meet, India stands alone in defence of domestic food subsidy

Bali WTO talks

India stood isolated at the WTO ministerial level talks Tuesday, insisting on its right to maintain domestic food subsidy and public stock holding norms, even as its major trading partner China and host Indonesia asked New Delhi to show flexibility to push stalled global trade talks.

India's stance, highly placed government sources told The Indian Express, was prompted by clear instructions to Commerce Minister Anand Sharma that "it may not be desirable" to "endorse" the negotiations even if "India may be blamed for a failure at Bali".

Sharma accordingly held a series of bilateral meetings at the island resort but differences remained.

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng told Sharma, "We respect your stand but we are working for a positive outcome here. Doha round is a development round. We have worked very hard and every party has made compromises".

Indonesia's Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan too said India must understand "where the other guys are coming from", for which there has to be some flexibility.

Egypt had voiced similar concerns in bilateral talks with India Monday. Tuesday was the first day of the three-day ninth ministerial conference.

Sharma maintained that while it was the collective responsibility of all 159 WTO members to reach an outcome, a balanced result is only possible if the "genuine concerns of all developing nations were addressed".

Sources said the Union cabinet explored three potential options for the Indian negotiators and zeroed in on option B, which sought exemption for the Indian food security scheme from WTO restrictions on subsidies for an "indefinite duration". New Delhi will want the exemptions to run until a permanent mechanism is evolved to accommodate food subsidy schemes as a condition for endorsing the Bali declaration. This is stiffer than the four-year peace clause that has been seen as a possible way out.

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