Establish new rules for a fairer food future
This year, governments can ensure that better international rules help us get back on track to a fairer and more sustainable agricultural trading system, and overcome recent setbacks in our efforts to fight hunger and poverty. malnutrition. The United Nations Food Systems Summit later this month, the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in November and the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference that begins later this month provide opportunities for policy makers many opportunities to act.
The COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturns, climate change and conflict have all contributed to an increase in hunger and malnutrition. And the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the latest in a series of warnings that show why governments must take immediate bold action to address the challenges we face.
In particular, governments should focus on correcting and reducing the distortions that currently weigh on food and agricultural markets. If policymakers can improve the functioning of these markets, vulnerable producers and consumers will benefit the most.
Obviously, the status quo is not an option. According to recent estimates by United Nations agencies, between 720 million and 811 million people faced hunger in 2020. In addition, moderate and severe food insecurity has slowly increased over the past six years and now affects nearly one in three people in the world. We must change course if we are to achieve the sustainable development goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by the end of this decade.
The expected increase in the world’s population to nearly ten billion by 2050 adds an additional element of urgency. Better trade and market rules can help improve food security by supporting efforts to create jobs, increase incomes and boost agricultural productivity in a sustainable way. Better functioning markets would also strengthen the resilience of the food system to global warming, as temperature and precipitation patterns change and extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and storms become more frequent and intense.
At the same time, the recent increase in hunger and malnutrition must be seen in the context of the significant progress made over the past quarter century. During this period, tens of millions of people were lifted out of poverty and food insecurity as average incomes increased and markets became more integrated.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, trade in food and agricultural products has more than doubled in real terms since 1995, with the share of trade between developing countries also growing rapidly. Recently, new digital technologies have helped transform food and agricultural markets by increasing productivity and facilitating cross-border trade in goods and services.
At a meeting in Nairobi in 2015, trade ministers reached an agreement to end agricultural export subsidies, fulfilling a clear commitment under the SDGs. And in Bali two years earlier, countries reached an agreement under WTO auspices on other food and agricultural issues as part of a larger trade package. But there is still a long way to go to address long-standing problems in food and agricultural markets and ensure that global rules are also adjusted in the future.
Ahead of the WTO Ministerial Conference, I am chairing discussions among negotiators on a list of seven topics related to agricultural trade, including subsidies for products such as cotton, restrictions on food exports and the challenge improve farmers’ access to markets. Also on the agenda are rules governing the purchase of food for public stocks, guarantees for agricultural products and rules on measures that resemble export subsidies. In all areas, improving transparency by making more information readily available is a key concern for many countries.
Gloria Abraham Peralta is Chair of the Special Session of the WTO Committee on Agriculture. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2021. www.project-syndicate.org