At UN Food Security Ministerial Meet, India Defends Wheat Export Ban

India asserted that inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines was a cautionary precedent for not walking a similar path in global foodgrain shortage.

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New Delhi: India on Wednesday defended the ban on wheat exports as necessary to address “unjustified” food prices and asserted that inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines was a cautionary precedent for not walking a similar path in global foodgrain shortage

Speaking at the US-led Food Security Ministerial meeting at UN headquarters in New York, Indian minister of state for external affairs V. Muraleedharan said that countries “like India, who have adequate stocks, have seen an unjustified increase in food prices”.

“It is clear that hoarding and speculation is at work. We cannot allow this to pass unchallenged,” he stated.

The Indian minister stated that New Delhi had “recognised the sudden spike in global prices of wheat which put our food security and those of our neighbours and other vulnerable countries at risk”.

He explicitly justified India’s wheat export ban as not just a move to stop price rise in India, but also to meet demand in neighbouring countries.

“We are committed to ensuring that such adverse impact on food security is effectively mitigated and the vulnerable cushioned against sudden changes in the global market. In order to manage our own overall food security and support the needs of neighbouring and other vulnerable developing countries, we have announced some measures regarding wheat exports on 13 May 2022.”

Despite the wheat export ban, India said that it was ready to consider requests for food grains from countries on a case-by-case basis. “Let me make it clear that these measures allow for export on the basis of approvals to those countries who are required to meet their food security demands. This will be done on the request from the concerned governments. Such a policy will ensure that we will truly respond to those who are most in need.”

Muraleedharan stated that it was essential to appreciate the principles of “equity, affordability and accessibility when it comes to food grains”.

Taking a swipe at the West, he added, “We have already seen to our great cost how these principles were disregarded in the case of COVID-19 vaccines.”

“Open markets must not become an argument to perpetuate inequity and promote discrimination,” said the minister.

Earlier chairing the meeting, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken said that “countries with significant grain and fertiliser reserves as well as those with financial resources need to step up and do it fast”.

Muraleedharan reiterated that India has “never been found wanting” in helping countries in distress “even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing conflicts”. “We have provided food aid in the form of thousands of metric tonnes of wheat, rice, pulses, and lentils to several countries, including our neighbourhood and Africa, to strengthen their food security,” he said.

India’s wheat export ban was immediately greeted with criticism from the G-7 countries. “If everyone starts to impose export restrictions or to close markets, that would worsen the crisis,” German agriculture minister Cem Ozdemir said at a press conference in Stuttgart.

After the Indian ban on Sunday, wheat prices in international markets had increased to a record high on May 16.