DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL JEAN-MARIE PAUGAM
DDG Paugam's video message can be watched here.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
We are living through a dramatic moment for global food security: international trade can help respond to it in both the short and long term; China is a key player on international markets that can provide leadership in this response. These are the key messages that I'd like to convey today.
I'd like to thank you warmly for inviting me to speak at this important conference.
1. We face a dramatic food security crisis — and trade is essential in responding
Climate disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts, and economic downturns have undermined a decade of progress in combating malnutrition. Estimates indicate up to one-tenth of the world's population faced hunger in 2021, or some 800 million people; furthermore, 345 million people are set to face acute food insecurity this year, with 45 million living with the threat of famine. If nothing changes, we won't be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030.
One in five calories consumed worldwide crosses an international border. Some regions are net food exporters, while others are importers. Food must circulate from regions with surpluses to those with deficits.
China knows this reality very well. Every day, the country consumes 700,000 tonnes of grain, 98,000 tonnes of vegetable oil, and 230,000 tonnes of meat — but does so with relatively limited production capacities. Per capita farmland in China is only 45% of the global average.
So trade in food and farm goods is critical to China, as it is for other countries.
This is especially true when sudden shocks occur. For example, almost half of Ethiopia's wheat imports previously came from Ukraine and Russia — but after the war broke out, it was able to access supplies from the US and Argentina instead.
2. The multilateral system is reacting positively to short term challenges — but the effort must be sustained through structural reforms.
The WTO and other international organizations have stepped up in response to the current crisis.
- The United Nations, with Türkiye, helped broker the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is keeping food and fertilizer flowing to world markets from Ukraine, as well as from Russia.
- The WTO is striving to keep markets transparent and open.
We monitor trade policies affecting food, feed, and fertilizer. Some 100 export restricting measures were put in place one year ago, at the peak of the crisis. Around two-thirds of these are still in force. And around 70 trade facilitating measures have been adopted in the meanwhile, of which some 25 have been phased out.
Our members have pledged to ease trade and minimize distortions. They also decided to exempt from any export restrictions food bought for humanitarian purposes by the World Food Program.
The WTO is also coordinating closely with other agencies — the FAO, IMF, World Bank, WFP, and OECD.
Today, in part due to these efforts, food prices have fallen around 20% from their March 2022 peaks. But they remain historically high in local currency terms in many developing countries, which also face debt stress.
3. So we must do more, ahead of the forthcoming Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference next February.
First, WTO members must continue avoiding unjustified restrictions on food trade, to alleviate price pressure and volatility.
Second, WTO members, in coordination with other organisations, should address the needs of vulnerable people in net food importing developing countries and Least Developed Countries.
Third and most importantly, WTO members must improve global food security by revitalizing negotiations on agricultural trade reform, including issues such as domestic support to the farm sector, and the question of public food stockholding.
That means taking action to improve the functioning of agricultural markets: reducing distortions, improving competition, and ensuring that the true costs of food and farmed goods are reflected.
And it means reforming agricultural support to improve the sector's resilience and sustainability, by investing in research, strengthening infrastructure, and improving farmer extension and advisory services.
4. China has a specific leadership role in the global conversation on the future of agricultural trade
The global agricultural trade rulebook has remained largely unchanged for thirty years. China wasn't even a member of the WTO then. And the world of agriculture has since been transformed beyond recognition. As in other sectors, decarbonisation and digitalisation are shaping the present, and also the future.
China has achieved impressive progress in reducing the number of hungry people over the last two decades.
And its experience clearly shows how trade growth across economic sectors has been key to raising people's incomes and improving diets and nutrition.
Farm support policies have evolved over time, with China among the major economies now supporting its agricultural sector. And the value of China's farm output has also increased dramatically over this period.
The projections that will be discussed during the conference will give us insights into what to expect on agricultural markets in the decade ahead. And they'll also inform the debate over how we respond to challenges such as food insecurity, environmental sustainability, and rural development.
So, in your discussions, I'd encourage you to reflect on the role of the international trading system for Chinese agriculture, as well as the role of China for the international trading system.
China has a lot of experience to bring to the table. China's leadership will be key as WTO members seek to revitalise talks on agriculture to reflect the market and policy challenges we face today — and those we already know we'll face tomorrow.
I'd like to wish you a lively and fruitful discussion.
Thank you for your attention.