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US plays spoilsport, to nix India's wheat export plan

US has put a spoke in India's attempts to export wheat even before the govt can get its act together on the proposal to ship 2 mn metric tonne of wheat.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jul 02, 2012, 07.53 AM IST

NEW DELHI: The United States has put a spoke in India's attempts to export wheat even before the government can get its act together on the proposal to ship two million metric tonne of wheat.

Washington has indicated that it will oppose the grain exports by India if they are sold below cost, as export subsidies are not permitted by the World Trade Organisation.

In a recent meeting of the agriculture committee of the WTO, the US asked India about the exports.

"The US asked us detailed questions on the minimum support price paid to procure food grain and the price at which it could be sold in the overseas market," a government official told ET.

The government has over 50 million tonne of wheat in the central pool as on June 1 against the buffer norm of 32 million tonne on July 1. Much of the grain is stored in the open, exposed to elements and is at high risk of loss.
US plays spoilsport, to nix India's wheat export plan

It is keen to export some of the stock at $228 a tonne ( 12,500) against the overall cost of about $300 a tonne ( 16,500) to clear the way for the new crop as without the subsidy it will not find takers in the world market.

However, commerce department officials are apprehensive that once India starts exports at a subsidised rate, the US may create a greater noise at the multilateral forum against the move.

India may be able to defend the exports claiming that subsidies would be given only for a short period, but the US concern reflects a growing global glare on India's food export policy that the government needs to be weary of, a commerce department official told ET.

"India's flip-flop on cotton exports has already been criticised by a number of nations and discussed at length at the WTO. Now the focus is shifting to export subsidies. We need to be careful," the official said. Even in forums such as the G-20, there has been criticism of domestic policies that affect international prices of food grain.

"Although India need not fear action against it at the WTO for its proposed subsidised wheat exports as these would be withdrawn by the time a dispute is launched, we need to ensure that it does not get projected as a country that distorts world food prices," a Delhi-based trade expert told ET.

Interestingly, even the finance ministry in India is reportedly against the food ministry's proposal of selling wheat at $228 per tonne as it will add to the subsidy burden that the government is desperately trying to reduce.

However, since the export price was arrived at after a bidding process and the global prices of wheat are also ruling low, the food ministry is of the view that exports cannot happen if it is not heavily subsidised. The issue is likely to discussed at a meeting of the Union Cabinet scheduled on July 2.

The country could have got a much better price if it had exported some months earlier when global prices were higher, but the decision to export wheat is always a sensitive one because of food security issues and the government often takes long to decide.

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