India declines WTO Peace Clause proposal

India has decided not to agree to the ‘Peace Clause’ for agriculture subsidies that the World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo has proposed for Bali talks. India will not agree to any deal until it is clear that the proposed interim solution will be available till a permanent solution to the issue of India’s Minimum Support Prices (MSP) transgressing the WTO norms has been found and agreed to.

What is the ‘Peace Clause’ offered by the WTO?

India wants to implement its Food Security Scheme by providing food entitlements at subsidized rates to 2/3rd of its population. To realize this, the government will have to procure a huge quantity of grains from farmers. The government procures grains at certain MSPs. However, WTO norms under the Agreement on Agriculture may hamper the plan as the rules set a subsidy cap of 10% of the value of production for developing countries. India is already inching closer to that limit. If India breaches that limit it would create dispute and may be dragged to the WTO Disputes Settlement Body. The ‘Peace Clause’ proposed by the WTO general-secretary offers an interim solution by allowing the developing countries to offer subsidies to farmers that are currently prohibited under WTO norms. The clause will restrict other WTO members from seeking penalties and facilitating the government to procure grains at MSPs and sell them at subsidized rates through Public Distribution System (PDS).

What is the problem then?

 There is catch in this ‘peace Clause’ : While developing countries can provide WTO-prohibited subsidies to farmers without inviting any dispute under the Agreement on Agriculture, developed countries will have the right to drag these countries to the WTO Disputes Settlement Body, under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. This would render the peace clause null-and-void. There is also lack of clarity on when the proposed Peace Clause will expire and in case there arrives no solution or agreement at the eleventh Ministerial conference, the protection from the Peace Clause will end and its extension will be have to be renegotiated — a contingency India doesn’t want.

What is Minimum Support Price?

The Minimum Support Price (MSP) Scheme is a scheme of the Government of India (GOI) to safeguard the interests of the farmers. Under this Scheme the GOI declares the minimum support Prices of various agricultural produces and assures the farmers that their agricultural produce will be purchased at the MSP, thereby preventing its distress sale. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) acts as the Nodal Agency of the GOI.

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