Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

Update Phase 2: Food security

Food security

See also Phase 1 (non-trade concerns, developing countries, and net-food importers). The length of the debate reflects the fact that all countries consider food security to be important, especially for developing countries. Opinions differ on how to deal with this. Among the ideas discussed:

Is it necessary to protect domestic production in order to ensure food security? Most countries say this is best handled through a combination of means, but they vary a lot in the emphasis they give to various methods. These include: trade (importing, together with exporting to finance imports); stockholding; and domestic production (which can require some support and protection in developing countries).

They differ on whether liberalization and market orientation should be the main route because distortions jeopardize food security (countries advocating substantial liberalization take this view); whether market failings and particular circumstances such as an adverse climate require more emphasis on intervention (importing developing countries, some developed countries favouring continued protection and support); or whether a gradual approach towards liberalization is best (some European countries).

Some developing countries argue that they need to intervene in agricultural trade because they see little prospect of developed countries ceasing to distort markets with subsidies and protection, because at times they lack foreign exchange, and because they need to support small scale subsistence farming.

Some countries distinguish between short term and long term measures and between different problems. One view is that developing countries’ short term problems in obtaining food are best served with well-targeted food aid. In the long term, the solution is raising incomes, which means liberalization is part of the long-term best solution. However, complete reliance on market forces could lead to specialization in different regions, increasing the risk of acute shortages when weather and other conditions are unfavourable in those regions, and therefore, the best approach is gradual, monitoring the impacts, according to this view.

Some other countries agree that raising incomes is the long term solution to food security. But for the short term, the Marrakesh Ministerial Decision on Net Food-Importing Developing Countries and Least Developed Countries, combined with food aid and other emergency measures apply, they say.

International stockholding and a revolving fund: Some countries propose creating an international stockpile. A number of developing countries have proposed a safety-net revolving fund to allow net food-importing developing countries and least developed countries to borrow in order to buy food in times of shortage. Developing countries concerned about food security support the stockpile proposal. Some countries question whether there should be a new fund, preferring existing World Bank and IMF programmes.

Papers or “non-papers” from: Japan, the US, and 12 developing countries (Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Kenya, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe).

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The second phase consists of detailed discussions on the many issues raised in the first phase, organized topic by topic. The meetings are largely “informal”, meaning that there is no official record except for chairperson’s summaries presented at the formal meetings. Papers presented so far have not been official WTO documents. Despite the increased complexity, developing countries continue to participate actively.