WTO Dispute Panel Rules India's Sugar Subsidies Out-of-Bounds

Published online: Dec 15, 2021 News
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Source: American Sugar Alliance

India's sugar subsidy regime violates its obligations under a multilateral World Trade Organization agreement, according to the international trade body.

A WTO dispute panel initiated by Australia, Brazil and Guatemala in early 2019 investigated India's massive sugar subsidy regime and found it was not compatible with New Delhi's WTO commitments. The panel released its findings in a December 14 report.

India is one of the largest sugar producers in the world, producing more than 30 million tons of milled sugar in most years with the support of government production subsidies. India has also used export subsidies in recent years to help dump 6 to 7 million metric tons of sugar onto an already distorted and depressed world market, helping to drive world prices below the global cost of production.

The panel found that India's provision of domestic support to its sugarcane producers vastly exceeds the level permitted under the terms of relevant provisions of the Agreement on Agriculture. The panel also found that New Delhi's prolific use of export subsidies violates relevant provisions of both the Agreement on Agriculture and the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures.

"India has not been playing by the rules for years to the detriment of other sugar producers," said Dr. Rob Johansson, Director of Economics and Policy Analysis at the American Sugar Alliance (ASA). "This case focused on domestic sugar and export subsidies provided by India since 2014 and illustrates how much time these actions currently require to play out. We can now anticipate that India will use every procedural tool at its disposal in Geneva to drag the case out even longer."

The world sugar market is widely considered to be the most distorted and volatile commodity market in the world, with billions in foreign subsidies encouraging over production. That surplus gets dumped on global markets – depressing prices. Unlike other countries, U.S. sugar farmers and workers produce a reliable supply of sugar under some of the world's highest safety, labor and environmental standards and at zero cost to taxpayers.

"Our industry has long advocated for the verified elimination of all global sugar subsidies," said Luther Markwart, chairman of the ASA. "The panel's finding in the India case serves as a stark reminder of just how far we have to go in achieving that objective."