Updates on agriculture market developments, food insecurity
The committee continued to discuss how to implement the MC12 declaration on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the MC12 declaration on food insecurity.
Representatives from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) updated members on recent market developments and food insecurity during the committee meeting.
The FAO representative briefed members on the latest joint FAO-WFP bi-yearly “Hunger Hotspots” report for the period November 2023 to April 2024. The report warns that acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate further in 18 hunger hotspots during the upcoming audit period. The representative also said the FAO food price index continued its downward trend in October and registered a 0.5% decrease compared to September and a 10.9% decline when compared to its corresponding value a year ago.
Despite the downward trend in global food prices, the transmission effect was limited in most of the countries monitored by the FAO, with significantly higher and more volatile food price inflation in net food-importing developing countries (NFIDCs), reflecting the higher dependence of these countries on world food markets with increased exposure to international food price fluctuations, the representative said.
The WFP representative said that as many as 333 million people are acutely food insecure across the 78 countries where WFP has operations, an increase of 184 million people compared to early 2020. In addition, an estimated 47.3 million people across 54 countries are facing emergency or worse levels of acute hunger, the WFP representative said.
The WFP continues to collect data to assess the positive impacts of the WTO Ministerial Decision to exempt WFP food purchases from export restrictions. For the past few years, the representative said, the WFP has been pursuing a diversification of sourcing countries to mitigate supply chain shocks and ensure a more resilient procurement process by buying closer to the countries of operations and to the people they serve. The WFP aims to reduce logistical challenges to respond more effectively to local needs. The Ministerial Decision enables the WFP to increase access to surplus local production, as well as facilitate international and regional commodity movements, thereby having a direct positive impact on operations and the people served, the WFP representative said.
The representative from UNCTAD updated members on the organization's work and recent experience in relation to food security. The series of cascading crises that rocked the world economy in the last few years has eroded socio-economic progress and pushed humanity further away from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 2 on zero hunger. Moreover, it is projected that almost 600 million people will be facing hunger in 2030, or 119 million more than in a scenario in which neither the pandemic nor the war in Ukraine had occurred.
In this difficult context, UNCTAD has worked intensively to assess the consequences of cascading crises, identify critical bottlenecks and minimize their adverse effects, and shed light on the specific constraints of vulnerable countries and the channels through which they are affected. One of the key lessons learned is that international trade has proved once again to be an indispensable means to ensure global food security, especially in the case of vulnerable countries which rely heavily on international markets for their access to cereal and fertilizers. The fundamental importance of a rules-based, open and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system cannot be overstated, the representative said.
Review of agricultural policies
A total of 202 questions were posed by delegations concerning individual agriculture notifications submitted by members and those relevant to specific implementation matters. The review process provides an opportunity for members to raise any specific matters relevant to the implementation of commitments as set out in the Agreement on Agriculture. Thirteen of the specific implementation matters were raised for the first time in the committee, while 32 matters were raised in previous committee meetings.
The 13 new items concerned farm investment loans in Australia; dairy funds in Canada; Costa Rica's rice policy and support for small producers; export restrictions on onions in Egypt; France's new livestock support programme; vegetable and fertilizer subsidies and export restriction on olive oil in Morocco; export restriction on rice in Myanmar; New Zealand's sustainable land use programme; a transport tax on imported goods in Türkiye; and food security programmes and a regional agriculture promotion programme in the United States.
The 54 individual notifications submitted to the committee since the previous meeting in September relate to market access, domestic support and export competition as well as notifications in the context of the NFIDC Decision. Several of these notifications were also subject to specific questions at this meeting.
All questions submitted for the meeting are available in G/AG/W/243. All questions and replies received are available in the WTO's Agriculture Information Management System (AG IMS).
Transparency, transfer of technology, functioning of the committee
In their informal discussions on 27 November, members exchanged views on the following four themes: agricultural notifications and transparency; the role of transfer of technology in resilience building; the functioning of the committee; and the work programme on food security for LDCs and NFIDCs.
The chair of the committee, Mr Kjetil Tysdal from Norway, told the formal committee meeting that the discussions on notifications and transparency covered the streamlining of notification and transparency requirements under the pillar of export competition and reviewing the notification format for monitoring the implementation of tariff rate quota (TRQ) administration.
Both the discussions on notification requirements and transparency emanate from outcomes in the agriculture negotiations agreed respectively in 2013 and 2015 concerning governmental arrangements to implement TRQs and export competition. Members aim to align the existing agriculture notification requirements, agreed back in 1995 upon the entry into force of the Agreement on Agriculture, with the latest commitments arising from the two ministerial decisions.
On technology transfer, the chair said there was widespread support for the idea of holding thematic discussions on technology transfer, sharing country experiences and exploring the potential contribution of technology transfer to food security.
On the functioning of the committee, the chair said members continue their engagement on the issue based on a tabular summary of various suggestions and proposals prepared by the WTO Secretariat. Members acknowledged recent improvements introduced in the functioning of the committee and welcomed the report on these enhancements submitted to the Council on Trade in Goods, he added.
Based on the discussions at the informal meeting, the committee agreed to modify the existing procedures and timelines for raising matters at its meetings to provide adequate preparatory time to both questioning and responding members.
Food security work programme
On the work programme on food security for LDCs and NFIDCs, the chair reported that there is still no consensus among members on a revised report by the Coordinator of the Working Group outlining recommendations focusing on making the NFIDC Decision more effective and considering the needs of LDCs and NFIDCs to increase their resilience in responding to acute food instability.
The Working Group, tasked with deliberating on the work programme, faced challenges in finalizing its report and recommendations for transmission to the committee, as one member maintained its concerns regarding a few elements of the coordinator's revised report. There was no agreement to extend the continuation of the Working Group beyond the originally stipulated timeline of 30 November 2023, as established by members last November.
The chair informed the committee that he might convene a special meeting of the committee to facilitate the approval of the report and recommendations of the work programme if consensus were to emerge in the coming days based on the revised report of the coordinator.
The chair commended Ecuador, Malaysia and Viet Nam for submitting agriculture notifications covering multiple years. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of domestic support and export subsidy notifications still remain outstanding for the period from 1995 to 2021.
As shown in the compliance document compiled by the WTO Secretariat, a total of 973 domestic support notifications and 785 export subsidy notifications remain outstanding. The chair said these numbers attest to the need for members to redouble their efforts in this area to allow for greater transparency.
The next meeting of the Committee on Agriculture will take place on 23-24 May 2024.