1. Agriculture World

COVID-19 Brings Food Security in The Spotlight

Saumy Deepak Tripathi
Saumy Deepak Tripathi

It was in January this year that India’s trade minister, Piyush Goyal during an informal meeting in Davos said that several points of the Uruguay Round Agreements needed to be addressed to make a level playing field for the developing nations. The Uruguay Round Agreements was the eight-round of multilateral trade negotiations (MTN) conducted by General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade(GATT) on the trade of goods and services which went on for seven years. The main goals of these talks were to reduce agricultural subsidies and allow foreign investment. This was heavily criticized as being unfair to the developing economies, whose large population needed these subsidies to survive.  

These issues have been raised by developing economies for many years and, it was again expected to be raised at the forthcoming WTO meeting in June in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

But with the advent of Covid-19, the question of food security is sure to be back in the spotlight in Kazakhstan. The lockdowns enforced due to the pandemic have caused unemployment to rise and developing countries will be more cautious about their food stocks.  

The WTO has been constantly putting pressure on countries like India to decrease its subsidies to farmers and it has succeeded to an extent. In 2017 when India submitted its farm subsidy details for three years, it said that it had kept its farm subsidy under the permissible levels. It also reported a decline in its non-trade distorting subsidies. But India has also increased its spending on food security. India passed the National Food Security Act which allows rice to be sold at 3 ₹ per kg, wheat at 2 ₹ per kg and Coarse grains(milled) at 1 ₹ per kg ₹. This creates food security for the masses but is not a favorable ground for private investors. In recent times, several experts have urged the government to include pulses and edible oils under the act to provide a financially weak person with a more comprehensive diet. Acts like these have always been a thorny issue between developed and developing countries. 

But COVID-19 has changed it all. With the global economy expected to shrink by 3 % drastic measures will be taken by countries to survive this pandemic. The unemployment rate is 27 % and more than 100 million workers are expected to be out of jobs. Furthermore, states like Haryana and Punjab which depend on migrant laborers will suffer in the next crop cycle which will impact the agricultural produce.  

The complete effects of COVID-19 will be visible after some time but it surely will draw a fence in WTO between countries. India should put its concerns forward and should urge other developing countries to voice their opinion. The Nur Sultan meeting will be of utmost significance and India should use it to its advantage 

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