Opinion | India: The Champion of Farmers’ Rights at WTO
Opinion | India: The Champion of Farmers’ Rights at WTO
India has been a strong advocate for farmers worldwide and has been urging the international community to ensure a fair playing field in the agricultural sector for impoverished farmers

The ‘Krishi Parashara’ is the earliest known comprehensive guide to agriculture in India, believed to have been written around the 4th century BC, predating the Arthashastra. This treatise offers valuable insights into the practice of agriculture, including guidance on seasons, soil, and water conservation. It also sheds light on water management techniques specifically tailored for agricultural purposes. Even today, our agricultural practices largely adhere to the principles and teachings outlined in this ancient text. While modern techniques have been incorporated into farming, ‘Krishi Parashara’ remains the foundation of Indian agriculture and serves as a testament to our agricultural heritage.

In India, farming is not merely an occupation, but a sacred endeavour, a form of devotion to Mother Nature who graciously bestows upon us bountiful harvests.

The World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference for this year was held in Abu Dhabi from February 26 to 29, 2024. Due to the lack of major agreements reached, the conference was extended to a reserve day on March 1. One of the most contentious issues that the WTO has been grappling with since its inception is agricultural subsidies (called Aggregate Measurement of Support in WTO terms) and public stockholding.

In recent times, there has been a surge in agricultural protests globally, reflecting the growing discontent among farmers regarding working conditions, production costs, subsidies, food imports, and various other concerns. Even in India, farmers have been actively protesting. While the news of protesting farmers runs headlines today, criticising the government for its anti-farmer measures, the WTO negotiations that our country has been undertaking are not getting the right attention they truly deserve. What many may not realise is that India is currently the largest advocate for farmers’ rights worldwide.

In Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture, members have agreed to engage in further discussions with the aim of achieving significant and gradual reductions in trade-distorting support, as part of a broader reform process. However, there exists a significant divergence of opinions on this matter among developed, developing, and underdeveloped nations.

The Cairns Group, consisting of agricultural exporters from developed and developing countries, has proposed a 50 per cent reduction (or another agreed-upon percentage) in the global level of support that WTO members are entitled to provide for agriculture by the end of 2034. On the other hand, some emerging economies have suggested that members should first eliminate trade-distorting support that exceeds de minimis thresholds. These thresholds are defined as a proportion of the value of agricultural production and are set at different levels for developed and developing countries.

While the Cairns Group advocates for the complete abolition of agricultural subsidies to promote liberalisation in the agricultural sector, various countries hold differing perspectives on this issue. These divergent opinions, shaped by domestic priorities, have made the negotiations on agriculture one of the most challenging and toughest in the world. India, in particular, has been a strong advocate for farmers worldwide and has been urging the international community to ensure a fair playing field in the agricultural sector for impoverished farmers.

While there is no restriction on the quantity of food that governments can purchase at market prices through public stockholding programs, the assistance given to farmers via government-mandated minimum prices is viewed as distorting trade and must be included in a country’s cap on trade-distorting agricultural subsidies as per existing WTO regulations. Treating this as a distorting subsidy could impede the livelihoods of millions of farmers worldwide.

In contrast to developed nations where large-scale farmers predominate, India and numerous other countries have a higher number of small and marginal farmers. This contentious matter was temporarily resolved in Bali through the peace clause, which prevented challenges to support provided by developing members under their public stockholding programs within the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism. However, developing countries were required to furnish additional details on the functioning of their public stockholding programs.

The Nairobi Ministerial Conference in 2015 and the Buenos Aires meeting in 2019 did not offer a lasting solution to this issue. Nonetheless, the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Conference saw a landmark decision by WTO members to eliminate export subsidies and establish new regulations for other types of export support. Although discussions on fishery subsidies took place in June 2022, countries were unable to reach a consensus on public procurement and agricultural subsidies, paving the way for ongoing negotiations in Abu Dhabi.

According to the World Trade Organisation, the trade in agricultural products increased nearly five times between 2000 and 2022, from $300 billion to $1488 billion. The WTO’s Trade Statistical Review for 2022 reveals that India’s share of agricultural exports and imports in global agriculture trade in 2021 was 2.4 per cent and 1.7 per cent, respectively. India ranked among the top 10 global agricultural exporters.

In line with its WTO commitments, India informs the WTO of any new or modified domestic agricultural support measures implemented during the year on a regular basis. We have consistently advocated for our farmers by highlighting that developed countries, with greater financial resources, often provide higher levels of trade-distorting subsidies, which impact the global agricultural market. Developed countries have historically benefited from trade rules due to their higher economic capacity, advanced technologies, and fewer small and marginal farmers. Therefore, the total support measures provided to farmers in these countries should not be compared to those in developing countries like India.

Our appeal for farmers’ support has garnered a positive response from countries around the world. Notably, even countries like China have backed us on several issues at the WTO. The G-33 coalition, consisting of 47 WTO member nations, stands in solidarity with India’s plea for agricultural subsidy reforms. In alignment with India, the coalition advocates for customised support for various agricultural landscapes. The coalition firmly supports India’s stance that developed and developing countries should not be treated equally in terms of overall support for our farmers.

India has received significant backing from the Global South on a range of matters. We have effectively communicated to the international community the importance of food procurement, stockpiling, and distribution for a nation’s food security. We have consistently pushed for a revision in the methodology for calculating subsidies at the WTO, emphasising that essential food procurement for ensuring the food security of the population should be excluded from such calculations. Therefore, it is evident that India is at the forefront of advocating for the rights of impoverished farmers worldwide.

This righteous battle that India is waging at the WTO is rooted in the values and principles derived from our rich cultural heritage. As the Vedas have taught us, India firmly believes ‘Ksetrasya Patina Vayam Hiteneva Jayaamasi’, meaning ‘We invoke the Lord of the field by whose grace we indeed prosper’. The Lord of the field is our farmer, and their benevolence leads us to prosperity. Our country has always prioritised the issues of our ‘annadatas’ and will continue to do so.

Adarsh Kuniyillam is a Parliamentary, Policy, and Political analyst from Kerala. He consistently contributes articles to both national and regional publications and has actively collaborated with various think tanks. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect News18’s views.

What's your reaction?



0 comment

Write the first comment for this!