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WTO’s member countries fail to reach agreement on food security right

Context:

  • The 164 member countries of World Trade Organisation recently met to discuss substantive issues such as the food security right of developing countries and the centrality of development in multilateral trade negotiations.

What is food security?

  • Food security is a key international issue that gives rise to keen debate.
  • It refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it.
  • In order to ensure lasting food security, a range of different policies must be brought to bear, including inrelation to trade.

What are the three elements of food security?

Food availability:

  • Food must be available in sufficient quantities and on a consistent basis.
  • It considers stock and production in a given area and the capacity to bring in food from elsewhere, through trade or aid.

Food access:

  • People must be able to regularly acquire adequate quantities of food, through purchase, home production, barter, gifts, borrowing or food aid.

Food utilization:

  • Consumed food must have a positive nutritional impact on people. It entails cooking, storage and hygiene practices, individual’s health, water and sanitations, feeding and sharing practices within the household.

Responsibility for achieving food security:

  • The responsibility for achieving food security rests at the national level.
  • The various measures to achieve this are as follows:

Implement policies:

  • Governmentsaresovereign and free to implement policies they consider essential to ensure food security for their people, while fully complying with their international obligations, including coming to the rescue of those in need.

Trade:

  • Trade is an essential element in achieving food security but trade alone will not guarantee food security.
  • Rather trade is a tool, a necessary part of a comprehensive policy package to achieve food security.

Public stockholding:

  • Public stockholding programmes are used by some governments to purchase, stockpile and distribute food to people in need.
  • While food security is a legitimate policy objective, some stockholding programmes are considered to distort trade when they involve purchases from farmers t prices fixed by the governments, known as “supported” or “administered” prices

Other policies:

  • Accompanying policies, such as, irrigation policies, nutrition policies, access to fertilizers and credit, and other policies, including sound macro and development strategies, are also key measures.

Role of World Trade Centre in achieving food security:

Agriculture Committee:

  • Work on food security at the WTO takes place in the Agriculture Committee.
  • The Committee on Agriculture oversees the implementation of the Agriculture Agreement.
  • Its key responsibility is to monitor how WTO members are complying with their commitments.

Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS):

  • The WTO also contributes expertise to an Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), as recommended by the United Nations High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, to which the WTO is a member.

Public stockholding programmes:

  • Since 2013, WTO members have agreed to negotiate and find a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding programmes for food security purposes.
  • Under these programmes, developing countries purchase and stockpile food, and distribute it to people in need.
  • However, some of these programmes involve support to farmers and are therefore considered to distort trade.

Why the agreement on food security right has been a failure?

  • The WTO’s member countries could not meet the following:

Public stockholding:

  • Despite best efforts, the members of WTO could not meet the deadline on public stockholding for food security purposes.

Public stockholding:

  • The members could not even agree on more detailed programmes in many areas.

Centrality of development:

  • They also could not agree on the centrality of development, which underlies the Doha Round, as well as special and differential treatment for all developing countries.

U.S creates a hurdle:

  • The U.S. blocked the demands of more than a 100 developing nations, including India and China, to implement their food security programmes without difficult conditions.
  • Since all major decisions in the WTO need to be taken by ‘the membership as a whole’, even a single country can end up being the deal-breaker.

How the WTO would handle the failure of agreement on food security?

  • The only way to get an outcome in these very difficult issues is when every side shows flexibility.
  • There should be a free flow of cooperation and understanding among its members.
  • Members of WTO should first resolve outstanding issues of the ongoing Doha Round negotiations that began in 2001 with a ‘development agenda’ before considering ‘new issues’.
  • There should be a livelihood and food security box which recognises that agriculture in many developing countries including India is not a commercial enterprise but the backbone of livelihood security of a large population.
  • WTO should recognise support to achieve SDG2 ‘End hunger, achieve food security, improved nutrition
  • It should promote sustainable agriculture & this should be the basis of negotiation in agriculture.
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