Commerce minister Piyush Goyal has said the World Trade Organization (WTO) failed to show enough enthusiasm in responding to the pandemic that triggered food and health security problems faced in the least developed and developing countries. Member countries' collective moral obligation is to ensure that no person, anywhere in the world, goes to bed hungry and WTO rules should facilitate this, the minister said in a statement at the ongoing 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of WTO in Geneva.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced once again the need and efficacy of food stockholding for public good. After the Bali Ministerial Decision in 2013, the General Council in 2014 mandated permanent solution on the issue of public food stocks, which has already been delayed, should be the topmost priority for MC12, before we move to new areas. Nothing is more important than this for the people of the world. The pandemic reinforced the importance of One Earth One Health," the minister said.
According to Goyal, while India ramped up supplies of medical products to provide medical and health items globally, the WTO could not respond with alacrity. "We have let down the people of the LDCs and developing countries. The rich countries need to introspect! We need to bow our heads in shame for our inability to respond to the pandemic in time," he said.
On the issue of fisheries subsidies, the minister said that India's traditional fishermen and women are engaged in sustenance fishing and their right to life and livelihood cannot be curtailed in any manner. Stating that the nations responsible for depleted fish-stock should assume responsibility, having exploited the oceans for far too long by giving subsidies, he said the fisheries are global public commons and should be shared equitably considering the past and being mindful of future. "For food security and eradication of hunger, sustainable fishing is as important as agriculture, which is an important Sustainable Development Goal. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the Uruguay round in Agriculture in a Fisheries agreement. WTO reform is necessary keeping development at its core, to be decided through a precise, transparent and inclusive process, upholding the basic principles and objectives of the WTO, particularly consensus-based decision making and special and differential treatment," the minister said.
In a separate intervention at the G33 group of countries at MC12, Goyal reiterated the importance of arriving at a solution to public stockholding, and the special safeguard mechanism to ensure food security. "India and G33 group of members have long been calling for accessible and effective Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) in order to address the destabilizing and crippling effects of import surges and downward price movement largely due to huge subsidies by the developed members. They already have an aggregate measure of support entitlement which is quite large since there was already huge subsidies which were kept at a standstill many years almost 5 years ago. This is so, more particularly in the wake of volatility of the prices observed post pandemic an outcome remains for many members an important element of the agricultural package," he said.
Goyal wanted all G33 countries to collectively work towards a fair, balanced and development centric outcome at the MC12, including a permanent solution to public stockholding and the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM).