WTO / Nairobi: UN expert urges trade ministers to focus concrete outcomes on food security

By Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, today called on the trade ministers gathering in Nairobi, Kenya, for the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting to deepen their commitments to fulfilling the strong development mandate of the current round of trade negotiations.

“Trade rules must be shaped around the food security policies that developing countries need, rather than policies having to tiptoe around WTO rules,” Ms. Elver said on the eve of the tenth ministerial meeting in the long-running Doha Development Round of the WTO, from 15 to 18 December. “Supporting local food production is the first building block on the road to realizing the right to adequate food and nutrition, and trade must complement local production, not justify its abandonment.” “Reforms to the WTO's agriculture rules are urgently needed if progress toward the right to adequate food is to be realized,” the expert said noting that negotiations had been stalled since 2008, until 2013 negotiations in Bali, Indonesia generated progress on a limited set of development issues, including trade facilitation. Negotiators have since failed to agree on a post-Bali plan of work, and developed countries have refused to make good on the promise to resolve conflicts over developing country programs that involve public food stockholding for food security purposes. Such programs are being used by a large number of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. “Public stockholding programs constitute the first line of defense for developing countries against price shocks, production volatility, and food insecurity,” the Special Rapporteur said, while stressing the need to find a permanent solution to the issue calling it vital for the food security needs of developing countries. The expert also called upon developed countries to re-consider their position on the G-33 proposal and added that, “non-resolution of the permanent solution to the public stockholding program would be in bad faith, given the commitment that all countries made to resolve this in Bali and the meetings thereafter.” “Such programs are entirely justified and desperately needed if governments are to meet their obligations to ensure food security for everyone,” the UN Special Rapporteur highlighted. Ms. Elver expressed grave concern on the calls by some negotiators to cease negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda. “A handful of developed countries should not be allowed to block the Doha Round, which is not just a set of issues but a set of principles and a negotiating framework that emerged after more than a decade of stalled negotiations,” she said. “Calls to end the Doha Round by a handful of countries as “profoundly troubling.” “More than a hundred developing countries have expressed the need to continue the Doha Round, which must be respected,” the expert underscored. Backing the demands of the developing countries, she said that, “the agriculture negotiations should not be limited to just new rules to restrict export subsidies, as such subsidies do not represent the most important form of trade distorting agricultural support.” In this context, the UN Special Rapporteur also noted that global crop prices have fallen significantly and are projected to stay low in coming years. “This can reduce food costs for the poor, but if agricultural policies in developed countries support overproduction and the dumping of below-cost goods on developing country markets, as they did in the late 1990s and early 2000s, food security will suffer as poor farmers are unable to compete with those subsidized imports,” she cautioned. “This will hamper efforts by developing country governments to increase domestic food production, particularly by smallholder farmers whose families are among the world's hungry,” the expert said. She also re-affirmed that the negotiations should result in steep cuts in farm supports of developed countries as envisaged in the negotiations in 2008. “All countries must respect the needs of the Least Developed Countries and move beyond mere rhetoric, to address their concerns, with quantifiable outcomes,” the Special Rapporteur added.