On Friday, December 18, 2015 a hashtag on the Nairobi 10th WTO Ministerial meeting almost went viral:
#India blocks talks
Progressive activists monitoring the machinations of the US, the EU and her allies in the Kenya capital trying to manipulate the Third World nations immediately saw it for what it was:
A naked attempt to divide India from her African allies using crude imperialist propaganda.
Step back a bit.
How on earth was India apparently "blocking" the WTO talks?
From the 19th December 19, 2015 Daily Nation in Nairobi we read:
Talks at the World Trade Organisation 10th ministerial conference hit a snag on Friday when delegates failed to agree on agriculture and export subsidies.The closing ceremony was postponed twice and talks went into the night as negotiators worked out issues around weak texts for public stockholding and special safeguard mechanisms.Other thorny issues included the lengthy phase-out period for export subsidies by developed countries, longer repayment periods and watering down of the food aid element.The Indian delegation found itself cast as the villain when talks stretched into the fourth day without a resolution.Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed dismissed fears that talks had stalled.She, however, admitted that the text on agriculture was posing a problem. India is largely an agrarian economy.“At this point I don’t think we can talk about specifics but yes the agriculture negotiations are delicate,” Ms Mohamed told journalists late in the evening.The world’s largest rice producer found itself in the same spot it had in Bali, where it was accused of scuttling the talks.The hashtag #IndiaBlocksTalks went viral on Twitter.India has been defending the developing world through the G33 block and had by Thursday rejected a draft text on agriculture, saying it lacked a clear deadline to cut subsidies in the next five years.
Together with Indonesia and Turkey, India submitted an alternative text with language it said was suitable for developing countries.
Contrast the above with this report from a New Delhi publication:
India fights ‘unfavourable’ WTO drafts in Nairobi
Informal texts ignore special safeguards, add new issues
Nairobi, December 17:
India was taken by surprise by a draft ministerial declaration and informal text on agriculture, circulated on the penultimate day of the ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) trade ministers’ meet in Nairobi, which totally ignored its existing demands and concerns. But India is fighting back with its own drafts in the two areas.
New Delhi’s demand for a pact on a special safeguard mechanism to protect farmers against import surges was not respected in the agriculture text circulated by the ministerial facilitator, which additionally linked such safeguards to further lowering of tariffs on farm goods.
The inclusion of new issues pushed by US Trade Representative Michael Froman in the draft ministerial declaration circulated by the Ministerial chair Amina Mohamed has further rattled the country.
India and a number of other developing countries had been insisting that all outstanding issues in the on-going Doha development round, launched in 2001, be addressed before new items are brought in.
“The drafts were a surprise sprung on us. I have gone line by line through both drafts and identified where all we have problems and what the language should be.
“We will submit the drafts for incorporation in the final versions that come up,” said Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
The Minister said that India’s draft on agriculture would insist that the text be faithful to the Hong Kong declaration, which gave countries the authority to have special safeguards.
It would also insist on a delinking from market access as safeguards already available to several developed countries did not have such conditions.
No sooner had the #India blocks tlalks hashtag gone up than there was an "uprising" from Kenyan on Twitter:
Several of my compatriots took the "nationalist" line, uncritically tking for granted the Inidia was holding up a very good thing Africa. Some, given the complex cultural. racial and class dynamics within Kenya (with a siazable percentage of Kenyan citizens of South Asian heritage) afew went ballistic of a xenophobic rampage.
Since I am a Kenyan on Twitter myself-having had my handle for almost six years, I could not contain myself so I responded to some:
One Kenyan who has been keeping the world updated in Zahid Rajan, a left wing veteran activist and editor associated with AwaaZ Magazine and the Solidarity Network Kenya who has been maintaining the SEATINI Kenya website as revolutionary labour of love. If you visit the SEATINI Kenya site, you will find accurate, balanced and progressive information on the 10th WTO ministerial i meeting in Kenya:
Sample this blog post from Third World Network shared on SEATINI Kenya
Civil society representatives present at the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC10) have expressed deep shock and disappointment over a draft text on Agriculture released in the early hours of the morning here on the third day of the Conference.
The text was circulated by the Ministerial Facilitator on Agriculture (Lesotho) together with the Chair of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session (Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis of New Zealand).
Civil society representatives, present at the Ministerial, expressed deep shock and disappointment over the text released today. The text has yielded nothing on the demands of developing countries, most civil society groups here felt.
Expressing deep disappointment over the text, Timothy Wise, Tufts University, USA, said, "The draft text on agriculture is a serious disappointment. It offers no progress on key deliverables demanded by developing countries - public stockholding and special safeguard for import surges - fails to even mention new disciplines on domestic subsidies, and in its one deliverable on export competition, the small progress on export subsidies is diluted by weak language on export credits and food aid, the two main instruments used by the US government to promote its exports. This text utterly fails to advance the development agenda."
Deborah James, on behalf of Our World is Not for Sale (OWINFS), a global network of NGOs and social movements (www.ourworldisnotforsale.org), said "the agriculture text shows that all civil society concerns voiced over the years and specific concerns expressed by developing countries in the lead up to this Ministerial have been ignored".
Yash Tandon, President, SEATINI, Uganda, said "the draft text of Agriculture is certainly not one of the desirable 'deliverables' from MC10".
The section on public stockholding has nothing on the permanent solution except to say, "negotiations ... shall continue to be pursued as a priority in the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session, in dedicated sessions and in an accelerated time-frame".
Those have been continuing for two years now in Special Sessions of the Committee on Agriculture, but any discussion on the two proposals submitted by the G-33 have been blocked by the developed countries.
Today's draft text simply reaffirms "the commitment of WTO Members to agree and adopt a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes by the 11th Ministerial Conference" and confirms that the "interim mechanism as set out in the Bali Ministerial Decision on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes, and the General Council Decision of 28 November 2014, shall remain in force until a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes is agreed and adopted".
There is nothing for developing countries on special agricultural safeguards either. The draft text simply says: "work on a Special Safeguard Mechanism for developing Members shall be pursued taking account of proposals by Members and in the broader context of agricultural market access".
The Text stands stoic in refusing to grant any immediate safeguard mechanism to developing countries against import surges, which has been a longstanding demand of developing countries.
The G-33 had in fact watered down its proposals before the Ministerial, and had proposed the SSG which is already used by 39 Members mainly consisting of developed countries, but with special and differential treatment, especially in the form of using the last 3 years' average prices instead of 1986-88 prices. But even that has not been conceded in this text.
Moreover, by linking the safeguard instrument specifically to market access talks, the text refuses to recognize the developing country argument that, even in the absence of progress on market access, such an SSG is justified because of the high trade-distorting subsidies provided by the developed countries to their farming sectors.
"It is clear from the new text on agriculture that developing countries are getting nowhere in these negotiations. In particular, there is no forward movement on a permanent solution for food security proposal for public stockholding even after two years of negotiations since the Bali Ministerial. The special safeguard for agriculture has also not seen any progress even after several step-down in G-33 proposals. The developing countries should reject this proposal in no uncertain terms," said Biraj Patnaik, from the Right to Food Campaign India.
Export competition is claimed as the pillar that has something to offer comprising export subsidies, export finance, State Trading Enterprises and food aid.
Export competition discussions have been going on for some time and after the Hong Kong Ministerial there was an agreement to eliminate export subsidies by 2013.
Since then 2020 has been discussed as the target year for elimination of export subsidies and 2023 being the year for developing exporting countries. The current text proposes the elimination of export subsidies of developed countries by 2020 and those of developing countries by 2023.
While it is important to get this commitment, the declining share of export subsidies makes this far from the "big deliverable" the developed countries have made it out to be.
The other components of export competition have been more complex and problematic with the US wielding substantial influence over the talks. Export credit discussions in particular have already witnessed huge blocks by the US.
Timothy Wise argues, "It is inexcusable that the US government is using the current negotiations to legitimize its current levels of export credits, which are large and extremely trade-distorting. Over the last six years they have amounted to several billion dollars, with $1.25 billion going to African countries. This is equivalent to an export subsidy of $100 million, a large distortion that favours US exports over African domestic products and over the exports of other countries."
There are several concessions to the US in the text. For example, the current draft text allows the US to give credit for 18 months instead of the 6 months that was allowed in the Rev.4 text.
A civil society expert also argued that there was a carve-out based on special and differential treatment (SDT) for developing countries for export subsidies related to marketing and transport in Article 9.4 in the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA).
But according to the text released today, this carve-out will be terminated in 2028 or 2030, which reflects again a pushback on SDT in this Ministerial.
Sophia Murphy of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), said: "The draft agriculture text puts the US in its favourite position: win-win. There is no reform in the draft proposed language on export credits. By allowing an exception to time limits for not just the poorest countries but also any net food importing developing country (which includes Egypt and Kenya) the loophole covers all major recipients of export credits. WTO members have no interest in making concessions for what is already common practice. The proposed text gives the US what it wants from the EU on export subsidies, which the US hardly uses and which it has long wanted to eliminate. And it has made no commitment to reform its own export support, which remains all but untouched in the draft text now before the governments."
The civil society here has expressed deep concerns on the Food Aid segment, where the text remains weak. This is one area where developing countries and civil society in general had wanted binding disciplines as residual food aid is creating distortions in domestic food markets across the world undercutting farmers' prices and incomes.
The current text only has best endeavour provisions, still allows monetization and is weak on local procurement.
Sophia Murphy, from IATP, said: "The draft text on food aid is a disgrace. It's a big step back from the reforms included in the draft WTO texts seven years ago (Rev.4) and is less than most of the US development community are asking for. In a letter sent to USTR Froman last week (http://www.iatp.org/documents/letter-to-the-ustr-on-global-food-security ), NGOs called on the US to end the monetization of food aid, in recognition of both its trade-distorting effects and because it undermines markets for the rural economies the aid is intended to support. The US position demonstrates how little the government wants to see a successful outcome to the Ministerial."
Prerna Bomzan, speaking on behalf of LDC Watch, a civil society organization that works for 53 LDCs, said: "The Chair's text on food aid is very weak and even regressive since it does not contain a 'safe box' i.e. distinction between emergency and non-emergency food aid, as mandated in the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration. It legalises dumping by labelling food exports as food aid. This is a key concern for us since Sub- Saharan Africa, home to the majority 34 LDCs, accounts for around 60-65% of food aid flows and hence, it is imperative that we anchor stronger disciplines on food aid in Nairobi".
"African farmers will be undermined if the draft agriculture text stands during the WTO negotiations today. If the final text does not distinguish emergency aid from food aid more broadly it will create an enabling environment for dumping cheap food into local markets, undermining local farmers," said Marie Clarke, Executive Director of ActionAid USA.
The Agriculture text will be discussed with Members today, reports said. The aim of the Text "is to assist Ministers to find common ground, and in keeping with this aim they should be considered to expire at the end of the Tenth Ministerial Conference". In its current form, it is unlikely to be able to do that.