WTO should allow food exports from public stock to help countries in need: Goyal

WTO should allow food exports from public stock to help countries in need: Goyal

India on Monday strongly suggested the WTO to permit exports of food grains from public stocks for international food aid and for humanitarian purposes, especially on government-to-government basis, as the U.N.'s World Food Programme was not able to ramp up its supplies to help needy nations.

During an agri intervention in a WTO session, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said that the World Food Programme (WFP) over the last few years has demonstrated its inability to really ramp up supplies to the countries in distress

The United Nation's World Food Programme works in over 120 countries and territories to supply life-saving food to people displaced by conflict or made destitute by disasters.

Citing data, the minister said that in 2020-21, the WFP programme can only procure 4.47 million tonnes at a cost of about USD 1.7 billion, which by itself is grossly inadequate to serve in the interest of humanitarian crisis or a problem that is faced by many countries in terms of their food security.

He added that countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan need food supplies.

Help countries in distress

India has foodgrain in its public stock holding programme, which can be used to help friendly neighbours, countries in distress, least developed nations and the poor and the vulnerable sections of society.

"I fail to understand what is holding back the WTO and its members from allowing government-to-government purchases for humanitarian purposes, in the event of a problem, in the event of food security being threatened. All of that (supplies) can be (done) on very transparent terms," Mr. Goyal said.

"We believe that the WFP by itself has hardly contributed to world food security in any significant way. Their limitations of the programme and other than trying to tell the world that the WTO and its members have done something truly for addressing the concerns of world food security, it's not going to significantly change the scenario," he added.

He added that there are many countries which have public stock holding which could immediately provide relief to their neighbours, to other countries in distress.

Due to this, India has proposed that "we carve out an exemption for government-to-government purchases between countries so that we can support other countries particularly during humanitarian crises," the minister added.

He also expressed concerns that the issue of finding a permanent solution to the issue of Public Stock Holdings (PSH) of grains for food security purposes.

Referring to a text, he said: "Para 12 is pre supposing that PSH is not going to be finalised in this ministerial. I think it's extremely sad that a programme which is under consideration for several decades, which has been agreed to by the WTO in 2013, confirmed by the General Council in 2014, reaffirmed in 2015 is still not being finalized..." He stated that the issue should not be pushed under the carpet.

Response to pandemic would not be complete without TRIPS waiver

The package of measures, which the WTO is negotiating here as part of the response to COVID-19 pandemic, must include the patent waiver proposal of India and South Africa as it would help in dealing with this disease, Mr. Goyal said.

"For India, a response to the pandemic would not be complete without a TRIPS (Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver," the Union Mininster said.

He was speaking at the thematic session in response to pandemic and TRIPS waiver at MC 12 (ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation).

For the past year-and-a-half, Goyal said, India and South Africa and 63 co-sponsors of the waiver proposal had urged the WTO membership to adopt the TRIPS waiver proposal for ramping up production of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to comprehensively combat the COVID-19 pandemic by enhancing supply and ensuring equitable and affordable access.

Regrettably, the discussions reached a deadlock in the TRIPS council, he said.

The main elements of the text, which is under negotiations of the WTO's response to the pandemic, include TRIPS waiver proposal, food security, how trade should be facilitated in the time of pandemic, export restrictions, trade measures, transparency and role of services sector.

Issues for India

India has issues with regard to transparency, export restrictions and market openness.

Goyal said that disturbing this delicately-poised document even slightly would unravel the months-long complex negotiations and will run the risk of failing an outcome which "we are close to achieving".

He said that the WTO response to the pandemic and TRIPS waiver should be finalised together.

"It is of paramount importance for us to commence negotiations on therapeutics and diagnostics. We cannot have a pandemic response which does not deliver an effective and workable outcome on TRIPS, nor can we agree to any pre-shipment notification requirements," Mr. Goyal said.

He emphasised that the WTO members should redouble their efforts and commence negotiations on therapeutics and diagnostics as well, since the pandemic is far from over, particularly with the developing countries including the least developed countries.

"While vaccines were for preventive needs, we need to ramp up manufacturing of therapeutics and diagnostics to achieve a comprehensive test and treat strategy," he added.

No scarcity on vaccines

Further, he said that vaccines are no longer in scarcity as sufficient and affordable stocks are available across the world.

In fact vaccines are now getting wasted due to expiry dates, despite that there is opposition to some of the clauses even now, he said, adding that there is opposition to include therapeutics and diagnostics which could at least pave the way for the future need to tackle any crisis.

"If we are only looking at providing vaccines, I think it is too late in the day for that. The pandemic has run its initial course. Currently the vaccines are not in short supply and if we are not even able to look at the near-term future and the requirements of that period then I think it's pretty much clear that rather than concern for humanity for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, for the millions affected." "It is sad that the super profits of a few pharma companies prevail over global good," he added.

In October 2020, India and South Africa had submitted the first proposal, suggesting a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation of certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of Covid. In May 2021, a revised proposal was submitted by them.

The agreement on TRIPS came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on Intellectual Property (IP) rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets.

The WTO is a 164-member multilateral body which formulates rules for global exports and imports and adjudicates disputes between two or more than two countries on trade-related issues.

Source : thehindu.com