India will not support a trade protocol ahead of a July 31 deadline unless concerns about its food subsidies are met, two senior government officials said on Wednesday, a position that threatens to derail a landmark global trade deal.
The determination to link its food subsidy programme, aimed at supporting the poor, to backing the protocol raises the stakes at a World Trade Organization meeting on Thursday, with one Western diplomat calling India's position "suicide."
India is the most prevalent among a group of developing nations angry at rich countries for failing to address their concerns about the deal on trade facilitation - struck by WTO member states in Bali last year. Proponents believe the Bali deal could add $1 trillion to global GDP and 21 million jobs.
India is trying to win guarantees to protect a $12 billion annual programme to feed its poor that risks breaking WTO rules on price support subsidies to farmers.
"We have no problem with this trade facilitation (protocol), but unless they agree with us we will not allow it to happen," one of the government officials told Reuters.
"They want to cap our subsidies, which are just a fraction of what the developed countries are giving to their rich farmers," he added.
The deal was the first global trade pact reached by the WTO and was hailed as having restored credibility to the group and reviving the Doha Round of trade negotiations.
As well as causing concern abroad, the tough position has been criticized by a leading industry group in India and surprised those who expected newly elected pro-business Prime Minister Narendra Modi to radically slash the subsidy programme.
Modi has vowed to spur economic growth through sweeping changes to policies that many people felt had stagnated under the outgoing administration, and his every step is being closely monitored at home and abroad.
India has come under intense pressure from rich countries to drop its demands ahead of the WTO meeting in Geneva on Thursday, where member states hope to adopt the protocol - a key step before the deal is ratified. The deadline for adopting the protocol is July 31.
MODI'S PARTY OPPOSED BALI DEAL
The trade row comes days ahead of the first visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Delhi since Modi took office, and is a reminder that bitter trade battles that have tarnished ties between the nations in recent years may not be easily resolved.