India Vindicated on Food SecurityWhen India had remained rigid on its stand on food security, risking the trade agreements of the WTO, most commentators had riled the government for jeopardizing international agreements that would have lowered tariffs and brought down barriers to facilitate easier and freer trade across borders. But they had failed to understand that for India, freer trade without food security for its teeming millions would have been meaningless on the one hand and would have only strengthened the position of the developed countries on the other. Now, as the US supports IndiaÃÂ¢Ã¢âÂ¬Ã¢"Â¢s stand on food security, India stands vindicated. The US endorsement of IndiaÃÂ¢Ã¢âÂ¬Ã¢"Â¢s position also means that a big hurdle before the implementation of new trade laws will be removed and we can hope for a freer and more equitable trade between nations.
By Sunil Garodia
The Indian stand was not aimed at preventing trade agreements. It was just an attempt to provide food security to its poor. In doing so, India also highlighted the injustice in allowing just 10% of food output to be kept as buffer stock each year and that too calculated with the base as 1986-88, as it has to feed its poor who are more than 600 million in number at a conservative estimate. To expect India to manage such a herculean task with just 10% of food output was impossible, and now the US has realized this and endorsed IndiaÃÂ¢Ã¢âÂ¬Ã¢"Â¢s stand.
Despite not having to fight hunger and malnutrition in their countries, the developed Western nations have been providing huge subsidies to their farm sectors, making ÃÂ¢Ã¢âÂ¬ÃÅfat catsÃÂ¢Ã¢âÂ¬Ã¢"Â¢ (as one observer put it) of its big farmers. The farm lobby is very strong in these nations and it usually has its way in farm policymaking. Hence, just the US has paid $ 256 billion in farm, disaster and crop insurance subsidies since 1995 (Source: EWG Farm Subsidy Database). This acts as an incentive for massive surplus production which then finds its way as cheap exports to developing countries, hitting their farmers.
In contrast, what India is trying to do is to stockpile foodstuff in order to make them available at low rates to its poor people. With rural incomes not rising, the prospect of hunger and malnutrition is real. The Food Security Bill was drafted for this reason. While it is no oneÃÂ¢Ã¢âÂ¬Ã¢"Â¢s case to subsidize any sector indefinitely, a bridge arrangement to provide succor to empty stomachs needs to be in place till employment opportunities are available and incomes have risen sufficiently for the poor people to buy their own food at market prices. The NDA government has repeatedly said that it believes in raising incomes to make people live with dignity instead of doles.
The thrust of Western argument is that with the implementation of all the other agreements under the Bali declaration, free trade and easier movement of goods will mean that world incomes will go up substantially. Hence, they say, there will be no need to stockpile food grains or provide subsidies. But it has been seen that what the Western nations mean by free trade and easier movement of goods is often a one-way street ÃÂ¢Ã¢âÂ¬Ã¢â¬Å goods move from their countries to developing nations, to the detriment of the latterÃÂ¢Ã¢âÂ¬Ã¢"Â¢s agricultural and industrial sectors. They keep high tariff and non-tariff barriers to protect their own farm sector, but expect developing countries to bring them down. They had put on blinkers and did not want to see IndiaÃÂ¢Ã¢âÂ¬Ã¢"Â¢s point of view. The latest US position is a refreshing change and will lead to a better environment for future talks.