Thailand recalls trade envoy after Indian protest

Thailand recalls trade envoy after Indian protest

Delhi angered by comments made at WTO conference alleging it exports subsidised rice

Labourers unload rice sacks from a truck at Kakinada Anchorage, a major rice-export port, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. (Photo: Reuters)
Labourers unload rice sacks from a truck at Kakinada Anchorage, a major rice-export port, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. (Photo: Reuters)

Thailand has recalled its ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO) after India lodged a strong protest over remarks she made about New Delhi’s rice procurement programme, Indian media have reported.

Pimchanok Vonkorpon Pitfield reportedly accused India of exporting 40% of the rice procured for its public distribution system, which Indian officials said was factually incorrect. Indian officials boycotted deliberations at a subsequent ministerial meeting where she was present. 

An Indian official said Ms Pimchanok had been asked to report back to Thailand after the WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, which ended on Saturday.

India expressed strong disappointment over the remarks the Thai envoy made during a consultation meeting on Tuesday. She reportedly said that India’s rice procurement programme at a minimum support price for its public distribution system was not for the people but for capturing the export market, the Times of India quoted an unidentified official as saying.

The newspaper said the Indian delegation was “furious” with the tone of Ms Pimchanok’s intervention during a closed-door meeting on reforming farm trade, especially on providing flexibility for the government to procure food grains for public distribution.

Ms Pimchanok is a former director-general of the Trade Policy and Strategy Office at the Ministry of Commerce.

Some representatives of rich nations reportedly cheered the Thai representative’s statement.

“The whole issue appeared to be orchestrated with some of the developed countries seen to be behind it,” the Times of India quoted another official as saying.

Indian officials say similar comments had been made during earlier meetings at the WTO in Geneva, which the Delhi government saw as an attempt to portray India as flooding global markets with subsidised rice, which would violate global trade rules.

India is the world’s largest rice exporter, ahead of Thailand and Vietnam. The government recently restricted non-basmati rice exports in a bid to reduce domestic prices.

India has been seeking a solution at the WTO to the issue of subsidy caps, calculated on prices fixed at 1986-88 levels, as it has breached the ceiling of 10% of production value for permitted levels of support for procurement for its food programme.

The conference in the United Arab Emirates ended on Saturday with a temporary extension of an e-commerce moratorium but without hoped-for deals on agriculture and fisheries.

The WTO, the only international body dealing with the rules of trade between nations, requires full consensus from all members to chalk up deals.

The UAE chair of the gathering, Thani Al Zeyoudi, acknowledged the shortcomings.

“Despite our best efforts, we failed to agree on some texts which are of great importance to many of our members,” said Al Zeyoudi, who also serves as the foreign trade minister of the UAE.

After a 2022 deal that banned subsidies contributing to illegal, undeclared and unregulated fishing, the WTO was hoping to conclude a second package focusing on subsidies that result in overcapacity and overfishing.

Negotiations in recent months at the WTO headquarters in Geneva had produced a draft text that provided flexibility and advantages for developing countries.

But some — notably India — demanded further concessions, including transition periods that others consider too long.

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