UNCTAD and WTO put food security centre stage

Ahram Online, Friday 16 Sep 2011

The annual Trade and Development Board; UNCTAD’s governing body, discusses how trade and agricultural policies are at the core of development issues

Secretary-General of UN Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Supachai Panitchpakdi stressed the need to look at the financial crisis as a lever for engaging member States and to align domestic policies so that developing countries can log into the international trading system.

He said that in 2010 there had been “a robust recovery fuelled by dynamic growth in emerging economies”, but now the international community was facing a growth crisis.

World merchandise exports recorded their largest-ever annual expansion of 14 per cent in volume terms, and 22 per cent in value terms in 2010.

The first quarter of 2011 saw the volume of world exports exceed pre-crisis levels.

In spite of the slow recovery and the current debt crisis in the Eurozone, the multilateral trading system continues to function and WTO plays a vital role in monitoring national trade policies and resolving trade disputes.

“The multilateral trading system (MTS) works as an insurance policy against protectionism,” noted Supachai. It is precisely because of the fragile global economic recovery that the MTS faces greater challenges.

Cooperation towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the targets set at the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries – with agriculture at its centre – are fundamental.

The evolution of the international trading system depends on taking stock of the “role of trade in the global agricultural sector”, stated Lamy, citing food security as a main concern.

Lamy remarked that “the predictions, at the start of the 2008 crisis, that protectionist measures would increase, were fortunately wrong”. Although overall protectionism has been contained, this positive trend seems to have lost momentum in the past six months, and that is a matter of concern.

Reiterating that a lot more needs to be done “towards designing a more coherent international agricultural trade policy framework”, WTO’s Director-General added that domestic policies and their implications on natural resources management, property rights, energy, transportation, and distribution network credit systems are the key elements of a successful international agricultural trade policy.

Dr. Nabarro, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Food Security and Nutrition, said that a shared trade policy vision was crucial in order to withstand future food security shocks and create a framework to protect vulnerable populations from the vagaries of the commodities markets.

The three keynote speakers stressed the importance of inclusive growth and social safety nets to prevent rising protectionism and to improve the food security situation of the millions of undernourished people.

In the interactive debate, UNCTAD member States confirmed the importance of agriculture and agricultural trade rules for development and discussed approaches for the future of the multilateral trading system against the background of the impasse in the Doha Round.

“Inclusive development goes hand in hand with agricultural productive activity. Agriculture is the most important sector for developing countries and the most distorted in international trade”, concluded Supachai.

The Trade and Development Board will continue its annual session through 23 September.

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