A special meeting of the World Trade Organization’s regular Committee on Agriculture convened to review the measures that governments have introduced since the COVID-19 outbreak.
With food importing countries concerned about the impact of measures on their own consumers, officials from several countries questioned exporters from other countries about the measures that had been introduced.
Food export restrictions and farm subsidies were among the measures discussed at a special meeting of the World Trade Organization’s regular Committee on Agriculture on 18 June, held to review the measures that governments have introduced since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Although almost two dozen countries are believed to have restricted food exports since the COVID-19 outbreak, only four of these measures have been officially notified to the global trade body. With food importing countries concerned about the impact of these measures on their own consumers, officials from Japan and Switzerland were among those questioning exporters such as the Russian Federation and Ukraine about the measures that had been introduced.
Kyrgyz Republic, North Macedonia, Thailand, and Ukraine have reported restrictions on wheat, flour, rice, sugar, eggs, and buckwheat to the trade body in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Trading partners asked why the measures had not been notified in advance, and questioned whether the countries faced a critical shortage of the product concerned.
Other measures discussed include restrictions imposed by Cambodia, Egypt, El Salvador, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Romania, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.
Data collected by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) indicates that many measures imposed or announced were temporary restrictions, and have since expired or been lifted.
Farm subsidy schemes were also in the spotlight, with exporting countries in particular concerned that the measures unveiled since the start of the pandemic could prevent their own producers from competing fairly on markets for food and farm goods.
The US Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, a package of US$ 16 billion announced in May, prompted questions from Australia, Brazil, Canada, the EU, and New Zealand. Trade officials wanted more details on how support under the scheme would be calculated, as well as how it would be classed under WTO domestic support rules.
The US in turn was among governments seeking additional information on support measures in the EU, alongside other trading partners. The European Commission submitted an ad hoc report on the measures taken by the bloc and by EU member states, which provided details of the EUR 80 million it was providing as private storage aid for dairy products, sheep meat and beef.
Initiatives to support the farm sector in Japan, China, India, and Turkey were also discussed by trade officials at the meeting.
At the meeting, negotiating groups also presented a number of declarations on trade and food security, including a statement by a group of countries convened by Canada, and a separate statement from the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting countries. Both statements called for markets for food and agriculture to remain open and predictable.
In a separate development, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released its annual agricultural policy monitoring and evaluation report, including analysis of how governments have responded to the COVID-19 outbreak. The OECD looked at over 400 policy responses in more than 50 countries, and found that governments had taken measures both to restrict and facilitate trade in the wake of the pandemic.
Further details of the special meeting of the WTO committee on agriculture can be found online here.