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US, EU seek to ban countries from imposing restrictions on food export, limit taxation on exports

posted Nov 20, 2011, 10:26 PM by Puneet Goyal
NEW DELHI: Rich nations are likely to seek a ban on food export curbs as part of a solution to the global food crisis, a move India vows to fight vehemently.

Developed countries, including the US and the EU, are likely to move the proposal, which also calls for eliminating import duties on so-called environment products, at the World Trade Organization ministerial in December in Geneva.

India tightly controls food exports to ensure adequate domestic availability. "It is unacceptable to India and a number of developing countries, and we will put up a joint front at the ministerial meeting," a government official told ET.

The final declaration of the G20 Cannes Summit earlier this month encouraged the adoption of a declaration at the upcoming WTO ministerial to remove food export restrictions, including extraordinary taxes, for food purchased for non-commercial humani- tarian purposes by the UN'sWorld Food Programme.

"Although the G20 named the United Nations as the agency which should be allowed to import food without restrictions, developing countries should not be allowed to take on such commitments as they have to feed their own people as well," the official said.

India's farm export are meager and often subject to price and quantity restrictions. In case of grain, despite sitting on huge stocks, New Delhi has been reluctant to allow exports fearing it will exacerbate food inflation, already running into double digits.

Restraining developing countries from imposing curbs on food exports could create considerable political problems as it could deprive locals from getting adequate supplies at reasonable prices, said Abhijit Das, head, Centre for WTO Studies. "We did export to Africa and Bangladesh last year on humanitarian grounds when the global food situation was not good. But it should not be binding on us," he said.

Experts see a bigger agenda in bringing food on the discussion table. Food is an emotive issue and the developed countries are using it to build grounds for a similar regime of export restrictions in case of natural resources like coal and metals and minerals to corner China, a trade expert from a Delhi-based think-tank said.

A recent report by UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter warns against "face-saving, short-term solutions" aimed at hauling Doha over the line. Instead, we should grasp the opportunity to ask what kind of trade rules will allow us to combat food insecurity and realise the human right to food, it said.

A government official said India will also oppose the resolution pushing for eliminate import duties on environment-friendly products.

India is hopeful that influential countries, including China and Brazil, will fight attempts to arm-twist developing countries into agreeing to include new issues outside the agenda of the ongoing global trade talks of the WTO.