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WTO TFA major milestone for global trade: Jaitley

Jul 21, 2017

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday said that the entry into force of the WTO-Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) on 22nd February, 2017 is a major milestone for the global trading system. 
Releasing the National Trade Facilitation Action Plan (NTFAP) in the national capital, the Finance Minister said that with the release of this Action Plan today, India look forward to ensuring compliance with the TFA and also, impetus to trade facilitation.   
The Finance Minister further added that this Action Plan gives a time bound map, not only for implementing TFA, but also for India’s initiatives for trade facilitation and Ease of Doing Business which goes beyond TFA.
Earlier, under Article 23.2 of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), a National Committee on Trade Facilitation (NCTF) headed by the Cabinet Secretary was constituted. 
The NCTF comprises of stakeholders from the Government and the private sectors including trade community. The NCTF has adopted 76 point National Trade Facilitation Action Plan (NTFAP) which is a reflection of the Government’s commitment to implement the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
The National Action Plan aims to transform cross border clearance ecosystem through efficient, transparent, risk based, co-ordinated, digital, seamless and technology driven procedures which are supported by state-of-the-art sea ports, airports and land borders.
The objectives to be achieved by National Action Plan are improvement in ease of doing business by reduction in cargo release time and cost, move towards paperless regulatory environment, transparent and predictable legal regime and improved investment climate through better infrastructure.
Source: SME Times

India, China question US & EU's 'trade distorting' farm subsidies

Jul 21, 2017

India has challenged a major flexibility given to developed countries whereby they can concentrate their subsidies on a few farm products which allows them more policy space and causes distortions in global agricultural trade.

India and China have jointly prepared a paper in which they have argued that the subsidies given under this flexibility by developed members including the US, EU and Canada amounts to nearly $160 billion, which is more than 90% of the total global entitlements resulting in a major asymmetry in the rules on agricultural trade. 

The paper, which was circulated in the World Trade Organization (WTO) on July 17, stresses on the need to eliminate this flexibility as a pre-requisite for consideration of other reforms in domestic support negotiations.

The paper has cited examples where the product support given by developed countries exceeded even the value of production in some years. Subsidies to mohair and wool by the US; tinned pineapple, cotton and tobacco by the EU while the subsidy dole out by Canada to tobacco in 2009 was more than thrice the value of production.

The subsidies here are called the Aggregate Measurement of Support, or AMS, which is the annual level of support or subsidies expressed in monetary terms. The subsidy can be for a particular agricultural product in favour of the producers (product specific) or it can be given to farmers in general. Hence, the subsidy on any product can be as high as the total support.

Agricultural input subsidies (on fertiliser, electricity, and seeds) to low-income or resource-poor producers, along with investment subsidies, are exempt from the AMS calculation. 
As per the paper, AMS is the most trade distorting element in global trade in agriculture.
Under the WTO norms, most developing countries cannot provide product-specific support exceeding 10% of the value of production of the agricultural product concerned, called de minimis. However, developed nations and some developing ones are not constrained by this 10% limit.
This provides them significant flexibilities such as high amount of subsidies compared to the value of production of the products, concentrating the subsidies in a few products and shifting the products in which the subsidies are concentrated. While India and China are not required to reduce their subsidies in the Doha Round as per a 2008 agreement, developed countries have demanded that the two undertake appropriate commitments. Any overall capping or reduction in their de minimis will further reduce their policy space, the two countries said.


Source: The Economic Times

GST will accelerate goods transportation, benefit MSMEs: Modi

Jul 21, 2017

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will benefit micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). 
The Prime Minister's remarks came during his meeting here with a group of Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) MPs from eastern Uttar Pradesh, which was also attended by party president Amit Shah.
Prime Minister asked the MPs to give pace to their activities in their constituencies and states, a BJP statement said.
The Prime Minister briefed MPs about the benefits of GST and said: The GST will benefit the small traders and will accelerate the goods transportation.
During the interaction the MPs briefed Modi about status of several state and central government schemes in their areas, especially the GST.
The BJP MPs told the Prime Minister that schemes like Ujjwala, Khelo India, Fasal Beema, Mudra and Skill India had been beneficial in the rural areas and had transformed the their lives areas, especially of the women.
Modi also asked the MPs to fully cooperate with the Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh.
Shah and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar also spoke to MPs.
The meeting was part of Modi's beginning of a new tradition where he holds meetings at his official residence with party MPs in groups during Parliament session and discusses issues related to development in their constituencies and states.
During the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament, which is scheduled to end on August 11, Modi will meet nine other groups of MPs.
Source: SME Times

Despite record production, Indian wheat imports to continue

Jul 21, 2017

India is expected to import up to 4 million tonnes of wheat this fiscal year, despite a bumper harvest, due to the cheaper availability of the commodity in the international markets.

Rajiv Yadav, vice president at COFCO Agri, said: Depending on how the monsoon progresses, India is likely to import about 3 to 4 million tonnes of wheat until April.

According to Yadav, about 3 lakh tonnes of imports have already been contracted with Ukrainian suppliers. The landed cost of imported wheat is about Rs 18/kg, while the domestic wheat price is Rs 20/kg, said Yadav. 
Mainly, mills from south India find it cheaper to import than buying and transporting wheat from Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh in north India.
Prerana Desai, research head, EdelweissAgri Services and Credit, confirmed that wheat imports are continuing, albeit at a slower pace. Wheat imports in the current year will be slightly lesser than last year's wheat import, said Desai.
Although India produced a record 96.6 million tonnes of wheat in 2017 as compared to 92.3 million tonnes in the previous year, the availability in the open market has not improved significantly mainly because the government procured more to refill its depleted stocks.
The procurement of wheat as on July 7 for the rabi marketing season (RMS) 2017-18 is up by 34% to 308.01 lakh tonnes against the procurement of 229.62 lakh tonnes in the corresponding period of RMS 2016-17. The ending stocks in the central pool had depleted from 15.5 million tonnes in 2015-16 to to 13 million tonnes in 2016-17.
However, trade sources say that the import of superior quality of wheat that comes from Australia may not be much this year as the price is high.
Source: The Economic Times

India's cotton production expected to be up by 12% despite erratic weather

Jul 21, 2017

Despite erratic weather, cotton sector is confident of an increase of about 12% in production in 2017-18 as farmers are not interested in sowing pulses and soyabean. Industry has pegged cotton production estimate at 380 million bales against 340 million bales produced last year.

Sandeep Bajoria, chairman, All India Cottonseed Crushers' Association said, We expect India's 2017-18 cotton production to be more by about 10% to 12% this year. It may hit 380 million bales from 340 million bales of previous year.

The area sown as on July 14 was 90.88 lakh hectare, up by 17 % from 73.93 lakh hectare sown on the corresponding date of previous year. Most of the cotton sowing has been over now as cotton sowing after July 15 is not advised by research institutes.

The industry has played down deficient rainfall in parts of cotton growing areas of Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka, claiming it will not have major impact on the production estimates.

Farmers are shifting away from pulses and soyabean to cotton everywhere, said Bajoria. 
Prices of pulses and soyabean ruled below minimum support price (MSP) while cotton was one of the few crops that gave good returns to farmers.
The cotton seed companies too confirmed a healthy growth in sales. Our preliminary estimate is that the cotton seed sales will be higher by at least 10% this year over the previous, said MB Shembeka, vice president, National Seed Association of India.
Though, re-sowing of the fibre crop did take place on some area, the seed industry too does not see any big adverse impact on cotton production due to the dry spell in first half of July.
Source: The Economic Times

As Vietnamese imports flood market, domestic pepper growers threaten to abandon cultivation

Jul 21, 2017

As cheaper pepper from Vietnam continues to flood the Indian market through Sri Lanka, taking advantage of the lower duty structure under SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area), growers here have threatened to abandon the cultivation of the spices crop.
Growers and traders from the key producing States of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, who have formed a consortium, have demanded that the Centre impose a floor price for pepper imports at $8,000 per tonne to curb cheaper inflow of the spice.
Kishor Shamji, coordinator of the Indian Pepper and Spice Traders and Growers Consortium, and Navin Achaiya, its joint coordinator, said domestic pepper growers are in dire straits following flooding of the markets with cheap pepper imported illegally.
“If the Centre does not take this matter seriously, pepper growers in India may abandon cultivation. Ultimately India will become a totally import-dependent country for pepper as the domestic consumption is high, estimated at 60,000 tonnes — almost equal to American pepper consumption, a member of the consortium said.
Growers are considering cultivating cocoa and nutmeg, which are less labour intensive and have a lower cost of production. They are also looking at some fruit crops like mango and rambutan.
Pepper imports in general attracts a duty of 70 per cent in India. Under an ASEAN agreement, a duty of 54 per cent is levied on pepper imported from Vietnam. However, under SAFTA, pepper from Sri Lanka attracts a duty of just 8 per cent, making it attractive for a section of traders to route Vietnamese pepper through Sri Lanka.
Besides this, about 2,500 tonnes of Sri Lankan pepper can be imported without any duty. This year, 60 importers were granted licence, and they can bring in 40-42 tonnes each.
Indian normally imports around 7,500 tonnes pepper per annum. This includes duty free imports of 2,500 tonnes under SAFTA, and 2,500 tonnes under advance licence without duty and another 2,500 tonnes paying 8 per cent duty. This year, the total imports might cross 12,000 tonnes, following the arrival of Vietnam pepper via Sri Lanka, the trade claims.
Higher pesticide content
Vietnamese pepper is reported to have higher pesticide residue in it. In case such pepper enters the domestic market without being tested at the import port, it could turn out to be health hazard here, they said.
Citing statistics released by Vietnamese authorities, office bearers of the consortium said Sri Lanka does not import pepper for its domestic consumption, which is said to be negligible. They pointed out that even the Sri Lankan Primary Industries Minister, Daya Gamage, was quoted by a newspaper on July 15 as saying: Pepper is not imported from Vietnam to Sri Lanka for local consumption.
And yet, Vietnam shipped 443 tonnes of pepper in October-December 2016 to Sri Lanka. In January-May 2017, Vietnamese statistics showed that they had shipped out 2,016 tonnes of pepper to Sri Lanka. These were obviously routed to India through Sri Lanka, they said.
The interests of pepper farmers in the South as well as the North-East need to be safeguarded, the consortium leaders said.
India’s domestic demand for pepper is on the increase on account of changing food habits. The current demand is estimated at 60,000 tonnes per annum with an annual growth rate of 4 per cent, Shamji said.
Source: The Hindu Businessline

Agri and family welfare minister Singh launches NDDB Quality Mark logo

Jul 21, 2017

Radha Mohan Singh, minister for agriculture and farmers’ welfare, launched the National Dairy Development Board’s (NDDB) Quality Mark logo at Krishi Bhawan, New Delhi.
Sudarshan Bhagat, minister of state for agriculture and farmers’welfare;Devendra Chaudhry, secretary, Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries (DAHD&F), andDilip Rath, chairman, NDDB, were present on the occasion.
Singh also presented certificates to 14 selected manufacturing units for adopting food safety and quality management systems and adhering to the Quality Mark parameters. 
He said that the NDDB Quality Mark logo was being launched as an umbrella brand identity.
This logo signifies safe and quality milk and milk products from dairy cooperatives, and reinforces the consumers’ recognition that the Quality Mark is synonymous with good quality. 
The minister said that NDDB’s Quality Mark will provide dairy cooperatives and producer institutions the much-needed brand identity and a competitive edge.
This will also contribute to building consumer confidence in dairy cooperative brands. Singh said that it was aimed at bringing about process improvement in the entire value chain, from the producer to the consumers, to ensure the availability of quality milk and milk products.
This initiative does not propose any new/additional system for food safety and quality management, but lays down the processes required for ensuring quality and safety. 
Singh added that an eleven-member management committee willoversee the activities of the Quality Mark.
It comprises members of theDADFand managing directors of four regional federations.The Management Committee also has a representative of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and two experts in dairying.
He said that interested federations, cooperative dairies, educational institutions and government dairy units may apply for the Quality Mark.
Only dairy units that adopt food safety and quality management systems for milk and milk products and adhere to the parameters, given the guidelines of Quality Mark, are eligible. 
Singh said that the award of the Quality Mark shall be valid for a period of three years, subject to maintenance of quality, food safety standards and compliance with the terms and conditions of the agreement.
He said that though the approval for award of Quality Mark shall be valid for three years, surveillance audit for checking compliance with the norms of the quality mark shall be held once every year. 
The minister informed that since the roll-out of the initiative in January 2016, the NDDB has received 55 applications from cooperatives across the country.
Of these, 14 units have successfully cleared the two-stage assessment process. The remaining 31 dairies were informed about the areas of improvement. They have been provided a period of six to nine months for implementing the corrective measures.
Singh said that this initiative of NDDB will facilitate and strengthen the efforts of FSSAI. It will also create requisite awareness among various dairy units across the country for adopting the quality measures detailed the guideline document. 
Bhagat said, Operational norms of participating dairy units will be monitored and validated.
The assessment is a two-step process, involving pre-assessment and a final assessment, he added.
The pre-assessment largelycovers the village level procurement and processing infrastructure availability, training manpower and the retail sales, Bhagat said.
Only those units that score over 70 per cent in the preliminary assessment are considered for the final assessment, which will be conducted by a team of three experts, of which one is an external expert, he added. 
The final assessment is made for the evaluation of critical and major parameters that influence the quality of the processed milk and milk products, Bhagat said.
Source: FNB News

SC urges Centre to decide on policy for commercial release of GM crops

Jul 21, 2017

The Supreme Court has urged the government of India to take a decision soon on the policy for the commercial release and cultivation of genetically-modified (GM) crops like GM mustard.
The bottom line for any biotechnology regulatory policy should be the safety of the environment, the well-being of farming families, the ecological and economic sustainability of farming systems, the health and nutrition security of consumers, the safeguarding of home and external trade, and the biosecurity of our nation, wrote M S Swaminathan, geneticist and founder, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), in a report in this connection. It was submitted to the ministry of agriculture in 2004.
Swaminathan had also stressed that while evolving a regulatory policy, we should first find out whether the breeder’s objective can be achieved through non-genetically-modified organism (GMO) methods including marker assisted selection.
He also pointed out that the recombinant DNA technology was best used for introducing characters related to drought, floods, coastal storms and other non-biotic stresses. 
In the case of biotic stresses, including Bt cotton, there will be mutations and a need to replace the variety frequently.
Swaminathan stated that he hoped a policy, which was in the best interest of the farmer, the country and the environment, will be developed soon without further delay.
The Norwegian Policy was recommended by a Parliamentary Committee a few years ago. There are several other policies which safeguard concurrently the interests of the producer, consumer and environment, he added.
It is high time we develop and introduce a regulatory policy which will inspire public, professional, political and media as well as judicial confidence, Swaminathan said.
Source: FNB News