9 December 2021
How Can Trade, Resilience, and Inclusivity Support Food for All?
Photo credit: Brian-Kraus
story highlights

Speakers highlighted the that agriculture and food need a holistic approach.

Recommendations were offered based on four key public policy objectives: (i) Ensuring access to food for poor consumers; (ii) Safeguarding farmers’ livelihoods; (iii) Improving how food markets function; (iv) Rebuilding trust and confidence.

The need to incorporate gender-related provisions in trade agreements was also discussed.

A discussion on “Agriculture in a Post-pandemic World: How can Trade, Resilience, and Inclusivity Support Food for All?,” and organised by CUTS International Geneva, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), looked at how governments could rethink trade policy frameworks to increase the global food system’s resilience to future shocks. Speakers assessed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change on global food and agricultural markets, and what governments can do to guarantee that trade policy contributes to achieving the SDGs in the current market and policy environment.

This event took place as part of IISD’s TRADE + SUSTAINABILITY HUB. The event took place from 1-3 December 2021, and convened over 50 partners, 150 speakers, and 1800 registered participants from civil society, government, business, and international organizations to discuss how to ensure trade policies contribute to sustainable development. The Hub was scheduled to coincide with the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Twelfth Ministerial Conference and took place virtually despite the last-minute postponement of MC12. 

Rashid Kaukab, Executive Director, CUTS International Geneva, opened the discussion highlighting that agriculture and food need and deserve a holistic approach given their importance at various levels. He further noted that agriculture is a mainstay of livelihood and food security in developing countries, and is a crucial sector for trade and economic development.

Georgios Mermigkas, Senior Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), addressed the effects of the pandemic on food and agriculture trade and markets. Covid-19 has contributed to the most significant single-year increase in global hunger in decades (768 million people globally in 2020) linked to the economic downturn and increased poverty in many countries. Mermigkas underscored the role of trade in addressing both short- and long-term challenges facing agri-food systems. To address the short-term challenges, trade can help balance supply and demand, preventing the exacerbation of rising prices and keeping agri-food supply chains away from trade-restricting measures. In the long term, trade also plays a vital role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Reducing food loss and waste, promoting dietary shifts and generating appropriate incentives can be done by implementing a comprehensive set of policies.

John Deep Ford, Former Ambassador of Guyana to the World Trade Organization (WTO), reflected on the extent to which trade-distorting support in agriculture contributed to food insecurity. Artificially cheaper subsidised products have regularly had negative impacts on other countries’ markets. For instance, a number of African grain producers have lost their regional markets due to subsidized imports, as have many fruit producers in Latin America and the Caribbean and milk producers around the globe.  Ambassador Ford also provided throughts on which kind of rules could be agreed in WTO agricultural negotiations to better secure food for the poorest. He stressed the need to agree on reducing product-specific domestic subsidies particularly on key food products, as well as increasing certainty on specific flexibilities for supporting small farmers (e.g. Article 6.2). Many developing WTO members are also calling for a Special Safeguard Mechanism, which would help ensure their farmers remain able to sell on their domestic markets.

Carin Smaller, Director, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), identified key areas where trade policy could better address food shocks. She noted that the COCID-19 pandemic co-exists with other ongoing shocks, such as climate change and the rise of populism. To address these threats, she recommended that trade rules and policy be updated with shock resilience in mind towards giving countries the right toolkit to respond to shocks. Sharing lessons from a recent study, the outlined thirteen recommendations around four key public policy objectives: (i) Ensuring access to food for poor consumers; (ii) Safeguarding farmers’ livelihoods; (iii) Improving how food markets function; (iv) Rebuilding trust and confidence. Key recommendations included: (i) Banning export restrictions or prohibitions on foodstuffs purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the World Food Programme; and (ii) Establishing a special safeguard mechanism according more flexibility to members with lower bound tariffs to impose temporary safeguard duties.

Tanvi Sinha, Trade Adviser, The Commonwealth Secretariat, addressed the gender dimensions in agriculture and trade policy reforms providing recommendations to address the challenges faced by women in agriculture. Sinha emphasised the need for: (i) gender-responsive land reforms; (ii) policies that enable financial inclusion; (iii) reducing the gender-based digital divide; (iv) developing policy tools that encourage diversification from low-value staple food commodities into higher-value commodities and agribusinesses; and (v) incorporating gender-related provisions in trade agreements.

This article was authored by Hiral Ramesh Hirani, CUTS International

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