DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL JEAN-MARIE PAUGAM
Thank you very much for the invitation to contribute to this theme.
We at the WTO very much agree with everything that has been said so far about the present situation.
The WTO is participating in international cooperation efforts to respond to the crisis.
- We are part of the UN Global Crisis Response Group set up by the UN Secretary-General to address food, energy, and finance challenges
- We maintain close coordination on food security with the heads of the IMF, World Bank, and World Food Program.
- We maintain close dialogue with private sector players, including traders, bankers, and shipping operators, who participate in global food supply chains.
- And of course, the responses to the current food crisis are timely and at the top of our agenda ahead of our forthcoming WTO ministerial conference mid-June.
So what is it that we can do at the WTO? There are three lines of action that appear closely aligned with the proposals presented in the EU FARM initiative and the German G7 Global Alliance on Food Security.
The first line of action is about keeping markets transparent.
This is extremely important becausein the short term, we know that food is there: the question is about physical and economic access, rather than availability.
We are closely monitoring the trade measures taken by several of our Members and are asking them to notify their measures in real time. Transparency is essential to help prevent a “crisis of confidence,” which could trigger a panic-driven proliferation of trade restrictions and fuel speculation on markets.
At this stage, the situation is tense but remains overall under control.
- We count 22 Members that have announced or implemented export restrictive measures(1) (counting the EU as one), of which 20 are developing countries. This figure has been increasing since the beginning of the crisis. It is now relatively stable and under control. So, there are tensions, but not a proliferation of measures.
- Meanwhile, it is important to note that 20 members, including 17 developing countries, have taken steps to facilitate imports.
We are also contributing to the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), which historically started under the French Presidency of the G20.
AMIS seeks to share information about what is happening in global food markets and help improve food security. It focuses on four major crops — wheat, maize, rice, and soybeans — and has repeatedly proved its worth, including in the latest price spike episode.
The second line of action is about keeping markets open.
Several initiatives are under way now at the WTO to prepare declarations that could be adopted during our ministerial meeting. Some are plurilateral (such as the FARM initiative). But we also have some Members discussing a multilateral declaration on food security, which appears to be a very real possibility.
At the heart of these proposals lies a reaffirmation of WTO disciplines on exports restrictions in times of crisis, and due consideration of the needs of net food-importing countries. And a call for countries to ensure that any emergency trade measures on food and fertilizers remain temporary, targeted, and proportionate.
This would replicate G20 commitments on trade in medical products, when the pandemic broke out two years ago. The good news is that these have been quite effective: exports of medical products soared in 2020, despite global trade collapsing due to lockdowns and other restrictions.
A specific initiative on the table for the ministerial conference would exempt from export restrictions food bought by the World Food Program for humanitarian purposes.
We are close to a consensus on this. Two members are not yet convinced, but getting all Members on board could represent an important outcome from our upcoming ministerial conference.
The third line of action is about reducing market distortions. This would build on our long-standing work on agricultural trade reform. Here, one central discussion is how to strike the right balance between the ability of countries to take steps affecting their domestic food and agricultural markets, such as through public stockholding programmes for food security purposes, and the impact this may have on producers or consumers abroad, through trade.
We hope that WTO Members will seize the opportunity at our upcoming ministerial to provide such concrete responses to the current situation and for the years ahead.
Thank you very much for your attention.
- Excluding from the count the measures taken as trade sanctions back to text