WTO should allow food exports from public stock to help countries in need: Goyal

Geneva, Jun 13 (PTI) India on Monday strongly suggested the WTO to permit exports of food grains from public stocks for international food aid and for humanitarian purposes, especially on government-to-government basis, as the UN’s World Food Programme was not able to ramp up its supplies to help needy nations.

During an agri intervention in a WTO session, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said that the World Food Programme (WFP) over the last few years has demonstrated its inability to really ramp up supplies to the countries in distress.

The United Nation’s World Food Programme works in over 120 countries and territories to supply life-saving food to people displaced by conflict or made destitute by disasters.

Citing data, the minister said that in 2020-21, the WFP programme can only procure 4.47 million tonnes at a cost of about USD 1.7 billion, which by itself is grossly inadequate to serve in the interest of humanitarian crisis or a problem that is faced by many countries in terms of their food security.

He added that countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan need food supplies.

India has food grain in its public stock holding programme, which can be used to help friendly neighbours, countries in distress, least developed nations and the poor and the vulnerable sections of society.

“I fail to understand what is holding back the WTO and its members from allowing government-to-government purchases for humanitarian purposes, in the event of a problem, in the event of food security being threatened. All of that (supplies) can be (done) on very transparent terms,” Goyal said.

“We believe that the WFP by itself has hardly contributed to world food security in any significant way. Their limitations of the programme and other than trying to tell the world that the WTO and its members have done something truly for addressing the concerns of world food security, it’s not going to significantly change the scenario,” he added.

He added that there are many countries which have public stock holding which could immediately provide relief to their neighbours, to other countries in distress.

Due to this, India has proposed that “we carve out an exemption for government-to-government purchases between countries so that we can support other countries particularly during humanitarian crises,” the minister added.

He also expressed concerns that the issue of finding a permanent solution to the issue of Public Stock Holdings (PSH) of grains for food security purposes.

Referring to a text, he said: “Para 12 is pre supposing that PSH is not going to be finalised in this ministerial. I think it’s extremely sad that a programme which is under consideration for several decades, which has been agreed to by the WTO in 2013, confirmed by the General Council in 2014, reaffirmed in 2015 is still not being finalized…”

He stated that the issue should not be pushed under the carpet.