A new vision for agriculture
momagri, movement for a world agricultural organization, is a think tank chaired by Christian Pèes.
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Improving the International Governance of Food Security and Trade

Manzoor Ahmad, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the WTO
Former Director of the FAO Liaison Office in Geneva
Published by the ICTSD

An increasing number of international organizations are addressing issues linked to agriculture and global food security. In addition to the three UN Rome-based agencies––the FAO, the WFP and the IFAD––the World Bank, the IMF and more recently the WTO have, for the past few years, been seeking an increasing role in global agricultural governance. With this in mind, we recommend an article by Manzoor Ahmad, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the WTO and Former Director of the FAO Liaison Office in Geneva, and are outlining some excerpts below1. Published by the International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD)2, the author researches the recent initiatives to improve governance and advocates the addition of food security to the objectives of the WTO Agriculture Committee.

momagri Editorial Board

There is far more coherence in responding to a food crisis at present than at any time during the last three decades. However, there still is much room for improvement when it concerns coordination and cooperation between the many international organizations working on food security. In the area of trade, for example, the WTO and FAO could work more closely to produce joint studies assessing challenges and providing analysis on food security. These organizations regularly work with others such as the OECD, and World Intellectual Property Organization to collaborate on areas of interest. Additionally, as the World Bank moves to disburse huge amounts for the promotion of agriculture over the next five years it could strengthen its existing use of FAO’s expertise and seek ways to expand its partnership.

It is not clear what role the UN High Level Task Force can play in the long run. It was, after all, intended to be a “time-limited” entity. It may therefore be best if its role was subsumed by the CFS. At the same time, the CFS could be made more independent of the Rome-based agencies. Its reporting mechanism could be to the ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social Council), which is the principal organ of the United Nations to coordinate economic, social, and related work of the various UN specialized agencies. However, ECOSOC would itself need to be thoroughly reformed before engaging the CFS. The role of WTO Committee on Agriculture (CoA) may be reviewed to place food security as a part of its mandate. The CoA could be made an active forum for food security issues resulting from any trade-related measures. There is historical precedent for such a role, previously a Working Group for Trade and Food Security was proposed at the WTO’s Singapore Ministerial in 1996. Moreover, the terms of reference of the CoA are broad and inclusive, insisting that members can consult each other on “any matter” relating to the implementation of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA). The AoA, the charter establishing the Committee, addressed public stockholding and export restrictions as elements of the food security needs of its members. In the run up to the Doha Ministerial Conference in 2001, the WTO General Council instructed the CoA to examine the effectiveness of specific decisions on LDCs and NFIDCs, demonstrating particular attention for the concerns of the most food insecure. Considering that the legal and political precedents exist, the Committee can serve as a forum where WTO members regularly air their food security concerns, if they so choose.

While the CFS can tackle the broad issues, the CoA could focus on the trade aspects of food security. The WTO’s Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council’s collaboration with the WIPO might be a useful model to examine. The CoA should also regularly conduct peer reviews of WTO members regarding their agricultural policies relating to food security in a manner similar to that of the organization’s Trade Policy Review Mechanism. The Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council may also be another useful model. Although members of the Council cannot be forced to change their behavior, public shaming of the worst violations may help focus international attention. The CoA’s mandate and the ability of WTO members to press it further allows for similar functionality. Although the WTO Secretariat may face constraints in comprehensively addressing the matter, anything resembling a Trade Policy Review is an exhaustive task, members could agree to an appropriate resource allocation. The current governance structure allows food security and trade issues to be passed between Rome and Geneva. For example, this may have been the case with export prohibitions on wheat last year. Officials from some exporting countries reportedly opposed linking bans to price spikes in the findings of an Intergovernmental Group on Grains and Rice paper and implied that trade related discussions should be held in Geneva, not Rome. Strengthening the work of the Committee on Agriculture may be a useful step towards ensuring that trade-related aspects of food security do not slip through the cracks.

Of the trade policy issues likely to affect price volatility, export restrictions have perhaps been discussed the most in recent months at the WTO. The current Doha Round agriculture draft modalities improve the ability of the CoA to monitor export restrictions by including language that requires a notification within 90 days of the use of such measures and restricts their imposition to one year or eighteen months if authorized by importing members. A recent proposal from Net Food Importing Developing Countries has further developed language in this area by calling for limits on the ability of exporters to refuse food to them. Similarly, a report to the G20 called for controls on export restrictions if they affect humanitarian relief efforts such as those of the WFP. However, there is only so much that can be done simply on export restrictions. Other policy areas such biofuels, stocks and risk management tools should also be explored. The CoA should urgently examine all such measures to see that they conform with the provisions of the Agreement on Agriculture and that they give due consideration to the effects of such measures on other Members’ food security. Continuing to look beyond export restrictions, the Committee, for example, could be empowered with a simplified mechanism to look into trade and food security related complaints between Members.

Perhaps most instructive of the challenges facing the CoA are the delayed notifications of compliance with measures of the Agreement on Agriculture, a primary responsibility of the committee. Over the last fifteen years, submissions have been embarrassingly late. By 2007, six years into negotiating the Doha Round, US farm policy changes in 2002 and EU reforms of 2003 had not been notified to other WTO Members. Beyond delays, countries often notify “measures in diverse ways—categories are not uniform and neither is the approach taken to calculate support levels,” confounding simple comparisons and the monitoring function of the committee. The notification system needs to be improved if Members are to ensure timely compliance. An effective and vigilant Committee on Agriculture is in the interests of all WTO Members.

More broadly, the World Trade Organization has to consider new ways on how it negotiates its trade rules relating to agriculture. The insistence on a single insistence on unanimity, where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, has driven the negotiating process into a stalemate. Members will need to challenge conventional thinking if a deal is to be reached. The critical mass approach, allowing an agreement to come into effect only when a sufficient percentage of world trade is covered by its members, called for by the Warwick Commission, may be a good place to start. Ministerial Conferences of the WTO, which can issue binding resolutions, may also be worth examining rather than an approach that places all bets on a trade round. A start could be taken by agreeing to a Declaration at the November 2011 WTO Ministerial Conference to exclude humanitarian purchases by the World Food Program from export restrictions. This has already been agreed by the G20 and should not pose any serious problems.

1 The complete article is available by visiting http://ictsd.org/i/publications/114288/
2 ICTSD Programme Agricultural Trade and Sustainable Development; Issue Paper No. 38
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Paris, 20 June 2019