Why The West Has Zero Moral Right To Lecture India On Wheat Ban Policy

Several people recount how the G7 countries failed to “tame” surging commodities futures and speculation in 2007-2008, which impacted already rising food prices and contributed to food riots in 37 countries. Here is why the west has zero moral right to lecture India on it’s wheat ban policy.

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The US envoy and G7 agricultural ministers have urged India to rethink its choice to halt wheat exports, as grain prices have skyrocketed and a worldwide food shortage looms. Observers in India have indicated why New Delhi is expected to adhere to its wheat strategy.

“First of all, the G7 has no reason to express its disappointment over India’s decision to impose an export ban” argues Devinder Sharma, an expert on food and agricultural policy. “India is a sovereign nation and it has the right to ensure that it is adequately taking care of the country’s food security. This is immensely important, given the fact that India has an estimated 800 million people who are nutritionally poor and they need to be supported with a food security programme, which is enshrined under the National Food Security Act.”

India, the world’s second-largest producer of wheat, barred exports this week, citing the rise in global food costs as a concern to India’s internal market stability, according to Santosh Kumar Sarangi, the director general of international trade. According to Agence France Presse, the wheat price jumped to 435 euros ($453) a tonne on Monday, surpassing the previous high of 422 euros set on May 13th.

In response to New Delhi’s plan, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on May 16 that the US hoped India would rethink its stance and encouraged other grain suppliers not to impose export restrictions. G7 agriculture ministers warned on May 14 that India’s export prohibition could deepen the global food crisis.

“Even as the G7 has criticised the Indian government for contributing to the global wheat shortage, it must be understood that India is still a small supplier of wheat,” stresses Suranjali Tandon, assistant professor at the Delhi-based National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. “India accounts for 5% of the global exports, the price increases we are observing are the result of many factors, including disruption of supply chains [and a] spike in commodity prices.”

According to Tandon, it is also important to remember that the prohibition is not indefinite: until then, India can hoard and try to maintain price constancy so that international prices do not affect domestic pricing. The prohibition can then be removed when domestic inflationary pressures subside, she argues.

Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union have implemented sanctions on Russia’s finances, trade, energy, and transportation in response to the latter’s special operation in Ukraine, which began on February 24 and has hampered the country’s export capacities. Simultaneously, the US and NATO have expanded supply of lethal weaponry to Ukraine, extending and intensifying the crisis. Russia and Ukraine export 30 percent of the world’s wheat.

‘G7 Bloc Continues to Make Biodiesel From Grain’

According to Sharma, the G7 has no ethical grounds to criticise India over the wheat export embargo.

“If the rich countries really care about the poor and hungry people, they should have first set an example by cutting down by at least 50% the grain that is diverted for ethanol and also palm oil that goes into biodiesel production,” he emphasises.

Additionally, according to New Scientist, the United States redirects 90 million tonnes of grain to ethanol production, while the European Union uses 12 million tonnes, encompassing wheat and maize.

“Since only 6% of the fuel sold in the US is ethanol, diverting grains back to feed the people wouldn’t make much difference to fuel prices,” Sharma stresses. “But it will surely make a lot of difference for the world’s hungry… The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) tells us that 200 million people have slid below the hunger line, and acute food insecurity prevails in 53 countries. This is a time for global leaders to demonstrate statesmanship, and to also lead the world by example.”

And that’s not all: Sharma recounts how the G7 countries failed to “tame” surging commodities futures and speculation in 2007-2008, which impacted already rising food prices and contributed to food riots in 37 countries.

“The failure to do so has once again pushed the food prices to soar, jumping beyond the high price level that the world recorded 15 years back,” the scholar says. “If wheat prices have increased by 60% and maize by 54%, as the World Bank Agricultural price Index shows, it is because the world hasn’t learnt any lesson from the food crisis in the past.”

India Won’t Give In

According to Indian observers, New Delhi seems to have little likelihood of surrendering to the G7 countries’ coercion.

“I don’t think India will give in”, says Sanjay Pandey, professor at the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “India has in the past also maintained an independent foreign policy and balanced relations with different countries, and I don’t think that India will give in to any pressure to change its policy. In the past, the US and Europe have criticised Indian policy on many other issues. So this criticism of Indian policies is no surprise.”

Amit Bhandari, senior fellow for energy, investment, and connectivity at Gateway House think tank, points out that the Indian government is first and foremost committed to its own people, given the approaching food crisis and soaring prices. According to him, the Indian government has repeatedly proved that it prioritizes national interests.

According to Bhandari, Western countries attempted to convince New Delhi to shun Russian oil because of Moscow’s special operation in Ukraine. Despite the pressure from the West, India continued to acquire Russian crude. India justified its sustained purchases of Russian oil earlier this month, stating that an abrupt halt to imports would raise energy prices and harm Indian consumers.

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Modi Putin Meet © Photo : Indian PM Office

According to the expert, imposing more sanctions on Russia amid soaring inflation and global supply chain instability is a route to nowhere.

“Russia supplies a massive amount of raw materials,” Bhandari emphasises. “You cannot lock such a major supplier out of global markets. It is going to have a very debilitating effect on energy security, food security and economic growth. So frankly, all these restrictions on trade and exports need to be rethought.”

According to Sanjay Pandey, India is not the only nation that has declined to join the West’s anti-Russia sanctions bandwagon.

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“There are countries like China, like Iran, and there are some European countries also who do not always agree with the US understanding of the global situation or conflicts,” notes the professor. “I suppose there are countries that do not go along with the US or Europe. And those countries, including India, as sovereign nations, have the right to have their own foreign policy and their own position on various global and regional issues.”

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