Geneva – India yesterday defended its new ban on rice exports at the World Trade Organization, insisting that it is a regulation rather than a restriction and critical for ensuring the food security of 1.4 billion people, in the face of a volley of questions and concerns from the United States, Canada and Australia among others, our correspondent reports.
At the WTO’s Committee on Agriculture meeting, India said it is committed to ensuring food security in importing countries by granting exemptions to those in need upon their governments' requests. India said it continues to provide food assistance to vulnerable countries based on mutual agreements on the quantity.
“We have clearly stated (in previous meetings that) the requirements of those countries were already met,” the Indian official said.
Maintaining that in order to prevent private players from manipulating market conditions, India said advance notification of the ban was not provided. It emphasized that the current measures are temporary in nature, and they are being regularly reviewed to allow necessary adjustments based on domestic demand and supply situations.
More than a dozen questions were raised by Japan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, New Zealand, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States. They expressed concerns about the impact of India's export ban on the global food market, highlighting its significance as the world's largest rice exporter, accounting for over 40 percent of global exports.
Harm to Import-Reliant Countries
The group of concerned countries was led by the United States, which criticized India's recent
export ban on non-basmati white rice, which came into effect in July. Washington argued that such measures have a detrimental impact on countries heavily reliant on imports, particularly during times of crisis. In the past year, India has imposed several export bans besides this one, including on wheat in May 2022 and on broken rice in September 2022. “India continues to take an approach that exacerbates the market volatility resulting from the extraneous factors,” Washington said.
The United States highlighted that more than 40 countries depend on India for over half of their rice imports, with some countries relying on India for more than 80 percent of their rice supplies. Even if they manage to find alternative sources to meet their rice needs, they will still face higher costs due to India's export ban, it added.
Based on information from the US Department of Agriculture, Washington said that India is poised for a record-breaking harvest, with an estimated rice production of 134 million tonnes and stocks of 36 million tonnes for the 2023/2024 period. It believes that under such conditions, the new measure creates unnecessary trade barriers and hinders the flow of food to areas where it is most needed. “We encourage India to lift this export ban with effect,” the United States said.
Washington also asked whether India has accepted all exemption requests from least-developed countries and net food-importing countries, as India has claimed. It also urged India to duly notify the WTO of all the measures taken thus far to meet “its basic transparency obligations.”