Agricultural Rules Must Prioritize Food Security and Food Sovereignty

The top priority for a genuine development agenda in trade would be transforming the current rules on agriculture.

Rich countries, not the poor, are currently allowed to subsidize agriculture under WTO rules in the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) – even in ways that distort trade and harm other countries’ domestic producers. By contrast, most developing countries are only allowed miniscule subsidies. Supports by China and India to farmers on a per capita basis remain miniscule – only a few hundred dollars per farmer, as compared to tens of thousands for the United States. Supports in Africans and many Middle Eastern countries and LDCs should be increased even if they don’t have existing programs.

But the SDGs entreat countries to increase investment in sustainable agriculture. Also, there is growing acceptance of the “right to food” as a human right. One of the international best practices for supporting farmers’ livelihoods, ensuring food security, and promoting rural development is “public stockholding.” But these programs - in dozens developing countries - often run afoul of WTO rules – even though the agriculture supported is not traded in global markets.

Countries should have the right to support the production of food that is consumed domestically. Thus, Public Stockholding programs for Food Security must be considered as part of the Green Box, and thus not subject to limits or reductions commitments. WTO members agreed to find a permanent solution to the public stockholding programs by December 2017. At MC12, WTO members should deliver a positive resolution on the public stockholding issue that allows all developing countries to implement food security programs without onerous restrictions that are not demanded of developed countries’ trade distorting subsidies.

Countries should not have the right to damage other countries’ markets. Thus, export subsidies should be banned, and this includes domestic subsidies that go towards products that are exported. Domestically subsidized food should not be exported in a way that damages other countries’ markets, whether it was in a public stockholding program or is used as feed or other inputs for exported food.

Countries should have the right to protect their domestic markets from dumping by other countries. For some countries, import surges are a significant problem, and thus they should have recourse to a Special Safeguard Mechanism that is workable in their context. The SSM proposed in Rev 4 is inadequate because it has too many onerous conditionalities and triggers that would make it nearly impossible to use.

Countries should be able to use tariffs to protect domestic food markets. In any future negotiations, developing countries should not have to cut tariffs. In the case that there would be any future tariff cuts, then developing countries should have full recourse to Sensitive Products and Special Products. Developed countries should also be able to maintain tariffs that protect Food Security.

Subsidies that the US and the EU provide to cotton producers enrich a few thousand there, but have unfairly decimated production of hundreds of thousands of cotton farmers in Africa. It is unfortunate that WTO members did not decide to significantly reduce or eliminate developed countries’ domestic supports for cotton at MC11.

Civil Society Statements and Analysis

Inequitable WTO rules in agriculture continue to impact farmers in the developing world: English, Spanish

Agriculture remains key

WTO summit to ignore price crisis, agricultural dumping

WTO and Food Security: Biting the hand that feeds the poor

For India, the fight at WTO will be about food security

Old updates

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