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The 11th ministerial meeting of the 164-member World Trade Organization, in Buenos Aires, has begun, moderating hopes of an outcome as developed and developing nations got together to push their agendas at the highest policy making body of the WTO.

India is being represented at the meeting by the Commerce and Industry Minister, Suresh Prabhu. He will be pushing for a permanent solution to the public food stock-holding issue which is crucial for operating the food security programme. The developing nations will resist the efforts by the developed nations to formally set aside the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) and place new issues including e-commerce on the table.

According to officials, one could expect only moderate outcome from the meeting.

The minister had met the representatives of the EU and his South African counterpart. They participated in the meetings of the South Centre and the G33 grouping.

According to Stephen Ndung’u Karau, chair person of Agriculture Committee, some outcome is expected on the public food stock-holding besides a few other agriculture issues. As regards SSM, Karau said, “Several members want an outcome, but more likely outcome may be a work programme.”

The outcome is likely to be on issues concerning domestic support, export restrictions and cotton.

India is keen for a permanent solution to the public stock-holding issue at the ministerial. Under the global trade terms, a WTO member country’s food subsidy bill should not breach the limit of 10 per cent of the value of production based on the reference price of 1986-88.

WTO members, under Peace Clause, agreed to refrain from challenging any breach in the prescribed ceiling by a developing nation at the dispute settlement forum of the organization. This clause will be there till a permanent solution is found to the food stockpiling issue. SSM is an instrument which would help developing countries to deal with import surges and price dips as a result of high subsidies provided by the developed countries to agriculture products.

An agreement on SSM is important for India as the applied customs duty on some of the agriculture products is at the bound rate, meaning it can’t be raised further. These include products such as chicken legs, apples, olive oils and rice.

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