Food is Different: Why We Must Get the WTO out of Agriculture (Global Issues)

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At the very least, these large food exporters need to consider the sizable impact their policies have on food security in the rest of the world, and refrain from export bans and sudden changes in policies that disrupt world markets. UN-designated least developed countries LDCs certainly deserves substantial special and differential treatment, as many of them are poor, agrarian, and food insecure. But LDCs are not the only countries that fit that profile. Different classification exercises see this one here using cluster analysis show that other developing countries also suffer significant food insecurity.

The global trading system needs better categories for special and differential treatment that take these factors into account. Developing countries should accept a more detailed categorization of countries for WTO disciplines, in exchange of developed countries moving themselves to a more market-based agricultural and trade policies.

Finally, any trade framework must account for evolving food systems. On a global level and in many developing countries, food systems have been dramatically restructured by the expansion of food processing, supermarkets, and the lengthening of supply chains. This requires policies that go way beyond primary agricultural and food production. Here is the main question that should guide governments: How to structure and operate a food system that creates good private sector jobs and employment, uses resources efficiently minimal food waste , is environmentally sustainable and resilient, and generates healthy diets.

But this is certainly not the case now. Fostering such a food system will require many policy changes in trade and other areas. Some, perhaps most, of the needed interventions can be pursued domestically without concerns about regional or global spillover impacts.

That will require some form of collective action among countries and peoples to reach the desired goals. The multilateral system is a crucial public good to coordinate such actions. Henry Kissinger, in his book A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace, — which analyzed the breakdown of the European diplomatic system at that time and the ensuing wars , noted that a key problem was the desire of countries for absolute security.

But that too often means that they will start infringing upon the policy space of others. Hopefully, countries understand that an international trade system based on rules that are respected is good for all humankind, and act accordingly.


  1. Agricultural policy;
  2. Jessica: A Study in Submission.
  3. Food is Different: Why We Must Get the WTO Out of Agriculture (Global Issues)!
  4. Peter M. Rosset – Fernwood Publishing!
  5. Food is Different: Why we must get the WTO out of Agriculture by Peter M. Rosset!

Skip to main content. Some history When the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs a precursor to the World Trade Organization first took effect in , agriculture was treated separately from industry, with governments allowed to use a variety of measures such as tariffs and quantitative restrictions on imports to subsidize domestic production and shield it from external competition.

Current conditions Fast forward a quarter of a century to today. Future prospects Given these issues, global actors must engage in trade negotiations with a dose of realism. Agriculture Production. Burkina Faso. West Africa. Social Protection. Papua New Guinea. Those negotiations succeeded in creating an elaborate framework of rules, but they largely failed to rein in subsidies or trade protection in industrialised countries.

See a Problem?

The Doha Round was supposed to change that, but it collapsed around the time that food prices peaked in mid and there has been only limited progress on narrow issues since then. Some argue that agriculture is now of such small importance in international trade that the WTO should move on and focus on new, 21 st -century issues. But agriculture is still important for developing countries, especially in Africa, for both food security and livelihoods. The challenge is that food security is particularly politically sensitive and policymakers want flexibility policy space to address it.

The WTO could help by guiding policies in less distorting directions and reducing the negative spillovers for others — if member countries find the political will to let it. Agricultural reform has long been a tough nut to crack. Despite dramatic changes in the structure of American agriculture since then, the US Congress still approves farm bills every five years or so that provide an array of support programs for farmers. Though the figure has dropped to just under 10 percent in recent years, more than one-quarter of total US farm receipts were courtesy of Uncle Sam as recently as , according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD.

Japanese farmers are dwindling in number and most are 65 years old or older, yet the government still maintains a tariff of more than percent to protect rice farmers. And while the EU has reformed the Common Agricultural Policy CAP to make it far less trade-distorting, it still transfers tens of billions of dollars to farmers every year.

Free Trade in Agriculture: A Bad Idea Whose Time Is Done

While it might seem that having a relatively small number of farmers should reduce their political clout, the opposite is often true. Smaller numbers of larger, wealthier farm operations find it easier to organise and lobby to protect their interests. For most people in high-income countries, however, food is a small share of the total consumption basket. They generally will not feel strongly enough to vote, or to pony up campaign contributions, because they oppose farm subsidies.

Food is Different: Why we must get the WTO out of Agriculture, Rosset

The strength of the agricultural lobbies in key countries plagued efforts to negotiate international rules to discipline these policies from the beginning. While the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade GATT prohibited export subsidies and import quotas for manufactured products, it allowed them for agricultural commodities. Tariff cutting negotiations over the years after the GATT launched in also fell far more lightly on agricultural commodities than on manufactured goods. As a result, tariffs on agricultural products are typically higher than those on industrial products: six to seven times higher in the EU, Japan, and Korea, three times higher in Canada and India, 50 percent higher in China and the US.

The Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture was a step forward in at least making agricultural policies subject to international trade rules aimed at bringing them under control.

Open issues

It proved to be yet another disappointment, however. European negotiators ensured that the rules reflected reforms they had already adopted; Japanese negotiators insisted on keeping extraordinarily high barriers to rice imports; and the US took advantage of that to retain protection for sugar and dairy products. Overall, the constraints were loose enough that they had little impact in practice. When the WTO decided to launch a new round of negotiations in Doha, Qatar, in , real agricultural prices were near historic lows. Tightening the rules on price-depressing agricultural subsidies and trade barriers was at the centre of international trade negotiations.

This time, Brazil and other developing-country exporters were in the forefront demanding reform. Then food prices began to rise and things changed dramatically.

"Understanding global food security and nutrition"

Although food prices have been up and down in recent years, they remain well above the levels of the early and mids. And, at least temporarily, that shifted attention from the effects of low commodity prices on poor producers to the effect of high food prices on poor consumers. International postage paid to Pitney Bowes Inc. Learn More - opens in a new window or tab International postage and import charges paid to Pitney Bowes Inc. Learn More - opens in a new window or tab Any international postage and import charges are paid in part to Pitney Bowes Inc.

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