July 31st is the deadline for signing of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) by all 160 member countries of the WTO. The TFA will bind member countries to lower all borders to international trade including tariffs, procedures, etc. The Indian government is opposed to signing the Agreement unless its concerns over WTO Rules regarding agricultural subsidies are addressed. India is facing massive international pressure at the on-going WTO General Council meeting in Geneva to ratify the TFA, because a majority of member countries has signed the Agreement, and India’s refusal to sign it is seen as a roadblock to the progress of trade liberalisation.
Even while giving its commitment to signing the TFA, at the 19th Ministerial Meeting in Bali in December 2013, India had raised its concerns regarding the WTO Rules that restrict the value of food subsidies a government can grant to 10% of the value of agricultural production (taken at 1986-87 prices). Since the present government has committed to continue with the implementation of the Food Security Act passed by the previous UPA government, this cap on the value of food subsidy will pose a legal problem for its implementation.
For the workers and peasants of India, no cap is acceptable, because it is a matter of principle that the State must ensure adequate availability of food for the population at affordable rates. This cannot be subordinated to the interests of promoting international trade. For the monopolies in global agricultural trade, the provision of subsidised food through PDS does not allow them to sell their produce in the Indian market at a profit and stands in the way of their plans to capturing control over India’s agriculture. Not only is India one of the biggest markets for agricultural produce, it is also one of the biggest producers of the different agricultural commodities.
Several farmers organisations in India, have come together ahead of the WTO General Council meeting to demand that the Indian Government stand firm on linking the agricultural subsidy issue with the Trade Facilitation Agreement in WTO. They have pointed out that the Government of India “lost a historical opportunity in correcting deep-seated WTO wrongs in the Bali Ministerial. At least now, they need to stand firm on our sovereign policy space related to food and livelihood security, and sustainable development pathways.” They have demanded that at this point of time, the government should not buckle under any international pressure. It should remain firm in its position”. The workers and peasants know that the Indian government, as it has in the past, is quite capable of settling for a compromise deal that provides Indian capitalists an advantage from the trade agreement.
The Communist Ghadar Party, along with many parties and organisations of workers, peasants, women and youth has been demanding that the government bring internal wholesale trade and foreign trade as well as large scale retail under social control, in order to be able to establish a modern universal public distribution system in town and countryside. It has been demanding that government ensure that all inputs for agriculture are available at affordable prices (seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, power, etc) and the state guarantee purchase of the produce of peasantry at remunerative prices for all crops.
It is the sovereign right of every country to decide the course of domestic policy, especially so when it has implications for the livelihood of millions of peasantry and the basic nutritional needs of millions of its workers in the cities. This right cannot be compromised on any grounds to serve the interests of the biggest capitalist’s and imperialists’ demand that there should be “free trade” between countries.