A Gloomy grey clouds were hanging on WTO’s 9th Ministerial Conference after a press conference held in Pecatu Hall, Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center in December 5th in the afternoon. At the press conference, Minister of Commerce and Industry of India, Anand Sharma, reiterated his country’s stance that it continues to refuse food subsidy restrictions as part of the Bali Package deal that is an ongoing discussion by all of the members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). According to Sharma, the stance reflects India’s commitment to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the taking of such a stance is a country’s right recognized by the United Nations. Furthermore, Sharma stated that the problem lies in the restriction of food stockholding. Every WTO member should follow the reference based on a minimum price from 1986 to 1988. Sharma assessed these rules as aggravating imbalances against poor/developing countries with large populations. “We have been pleading that the price needs to be updated. It is considered unreasonable since there is food price escalation until 2013,” he said. Sharma added that the price problem is not favorable and is unfair for Indian farmers and food subsidy amounts to feed the people in India.
As part of the Indian Government’s obligation to the welfare of the people through the Food Security Act, Sharma believes India should not negotiate against the law in his country. Even so, Sharma stated that India remains open to discussions with other countries regarding trade facilitation and other issues. In a press conference that lasted approximately one hour, Sharma also denied rumors about why India rejected the WTO’s policies on food subsidies. Among other items, Sharma denied the rumors and stated that the controversial decision is more political because India will hold its general elections next year. He added the issue of food security can be used as campaign material to achieve the people’s voice. Sharma stated the food security issue has been a discussion point for the WTO since 2005 and is not in the interest of the Indian election.
Sharma also denied rumors that Indonesian President SBY will personally approach Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the sake of reaching the Bali Package agreement in the WTO conference. “President of Indonesia is a close friend of India and Indonesia is a strategic partner for India. President of Indonesia and the Prime Minister of India, in this issue, are in the same page,” said Sharma, smiling. Sharma also rejected the suggestion that this decision has something to do with India’s rivalry with Pakistan as rice exporters. “I don’t have any issue with Pakistan.” When he was asked about whether India is taking a risk of being blamed for the failure of Bali Package, Sharma also stated that it is better they don’t have any agreement rather than have a bad agreement.
Regarding the Indian stance that seemed unassailable, the night before Sharma’s press conference, the Minister of Trade Gita Wirjawan stated quickly that he will continue to negotiate until the last day of the conference.