G33 for policy instruments to improve food security
Published in SUNS #8719 dated 11 July 2018

Geneva, 10 Jul (D. Ravi Kanth) - Members of the G33 farm coalition have upped the ante for addressing "policy instruments to improve food security, livelihood security and rural development" at the World Trade Organization because of "severe food insecurity" in most developing countries during the past several years, trade envoys told SUNS.

In a proposal entitled, "Reaffirming Multilateralism and Development for MC 12," Indonesia, which coordinates the G33 coalition of developing and poorest countries, said their small-scale producers are facing the worst livelihood crisis because of the continued short-term price volatility in agriculture.

The two-page proposal submitted to the Doha negotiating committee on agriculture on 5 July has listed the unaccomplished reforms that are much needed now for coming to grips with the continued "inequities and imbalances in the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (AoA)."

The small-scale farmers in developing and poorest countries who survive on agriculture for their livelihood urgently need an "open, transparent but also more importantly, a development oriented trading system that provides a level-playing field," the G33 said.

Expressing sharp disappointment at "the lack of consensus" during the WTO's eleventh ministerial conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires last year, the G33 said developing countries are hindered by the failure to address issues related to "livelihood security, food security and rural development."

At MC11 in Buenos Aires last year, the United States single-handedly blocked the chair's draft negotiating text at the meeting on the ground that it cannot agree to any outcome on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security.

"The US came to the Buenos Aires meeting with a decision to block the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security because of its new farm bill," said a trade minister who participated in the green room convened by the facilitator Ms Amina Mohamed from Kenya.

The WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo too sided with the US in ensuring there was no progress on the mandated issues of permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security and further work on the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, said an African trade minister, who asked not to be quoted.

"The US and the director-general played their part in blocking progress on the two vital issues at Buenos Aires," the trade minister said.

At one point during the Buenos Aires meeting, the facilitator threatened the director-general in a closed-door meeting that she will take the next flight if the DG continued to play an inimical role, the minister said.

Over the last 17 years of the Doha agriculture negotiations, the G33 steadfastly called for "meaningful Special Products (SP), an accessible and effective Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) and a permanent solution on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes (PSH)."

The G33 said these three policy instruments - SPs for ensuring that certain products are completely exempted from any commitments, the PSH to ensure that market price support programs do not come into play for providing major food grains at affordable prices, and special safeguard mechanism to enable developing countries to face unforeseen surges in imports of vital agricultural commodities, especially cereals - are an imperative for "developing Members to deal with challenges, particularly in sustaining investments in agriculture for food security, livelihood security and rural development, as well as addressing the destabilizing and crippling effects of import surges and downward price swings in the increasingly volatile global agricultural markets."

Given hundreds of millions of small-scale agricultural producers, "which represent the majority of the food insecure population in developing Members," there is an urgent need to kick-start the negotiations so as to ensure an outcome at the WTO's 12th ministerial meeting next year, the G33 pointed out.

"Based on data derived from FAO Statistics," the G33 maintained that 22.3% of the population in developing countries are engaged in agriculture as compared with 4.8% in developed countries.

Moreover, "the average size of agriculture holdings in some developing Members are miniscule, 2.2 hectares in Asia and 2.92 hectares in Africa, while for some developed Members the number is far beyond that, 349 hectares in Canada, 186.95 hectares in the United States, and 27.27 hectares in the European Union," the G33 maintained.

Further, data prepared by several international agencies suggest that "small-scale farmers, with equal to or less than two hectares of landholdings, provide up to 80% of the food supply in some developing regions and represent 85% of the world population active in agriculture; three out of four of the world's extreme poor live in rural areas."

Therefore, it is essential to increase the production and income of small-scale producers so as to improve access to food among the most vulnerable and improve supply for local and domestic markets.

"Sustaining small-scale agriculture is, therefore, critical for maintaining food security in developing country Members, as it is the source of income for the overwhelming majority of the poor on the one hand, and the main source of food supply, on the other," the G33 argued.

"As rural households in developing Members are both producers and purchasers of agricultural products, the impacts of price volatility for them are complex," the G33 maintained.

In the face of continued threat from heavily subsidized farm producers, the small-scale and resource-poor farmers remain vulnerable to both price collapses and dramatic price surges.

Further, the continued "imbalances and inequities inherited from the Uruguay Round in favour of developed countries" pose an existential threat for small farmers in developing countries.

The developed countries continue to enjoy a plethora of Uruguay Round entitlements such as high AMS (aggregate measurement of support or most trade-distorting amber box subsidies) beyond de minimis with no product specific caps, very high levels of total per capita domestic support, non-transparent and complex TRQs (tariff-rate quotas) and non-ad valorem tariff systems including tariff peaks and escalation, and the highest entitlements to the Special Safeguard Provisions (SSG), the G33 pointed out.

Consequently, the so-called high tariffs for agriculture in developing countries have "not been able to effectively safeguard the interests of small-scale farmers from periodic import surges and almost permanent market distortions in global agriculture trade."

"The prevalence of severe food insecurity has increased in most developing regions between 2014 and 2016, including in Latin America, West Asia and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and East and Southeast Asia," the G33 maintained.

Even "the FAO has projected that during the next decade many developing Members will significantly increase their dependency on agricultural imports, assuming current agricultural policies remain in place," the G33 pointed out.

At a time when negotiations for eliminating fisheries subsidies particularly for IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing are being advanced under the goal 14.6 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the G33 said the policy instruments - such as the special products, the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, and the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries - will "also go towards supporting SDG 1 for eradicating poverty, SDG 2 for zero hunger and SDG 17 for promoting a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization, including through the conclusion of negotiations under its Doha Development Agenda."

Against this backdrop, the WTO members must "collectively address those challenges and put the WTO on a steady, meaningful path forward," the G33 maintained.

The G33 said it wants to reinvigorate "the negotiations in the WTO and using this multilateral forum to develop trade rules that would be beneficial to all its Members."

It said "work to address imbalances and inequities must be continued based on Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture, and reinforced by the Doha Development Agenda which puts "development" and special and differential treatment (S&DT) for all developing Members at its core."

"Until the same is achieved, we firmly believe that the negotiations must continue, building on the various Ministerial decisions/declarations and the development framework we have agreed since 2001," the G33 demanded.

It reminded developed countries that there "was a clear mandate to arrive and adopt a permanent solution on PSH by 2017. Unfortunately, the mandate could not be fulfilled at MC11."

Therefore, the WTO members must "redouble" their efforts towards a permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, which would facilitate the achievement of a number of SDG goals concerning "the elimination of poverty, malnourishment and hunger to which we are all committed."

The G33 called on WTO members to "constructively and meaningfully engage on these two important issues with a view to delivering outcomes by MC12 (the WTO's 12th ministerial conference)".

In turn, this will send a strong signal for strengthening "the negotiating arm of the WTO continues to remain in business."

In conclusion, the G33 said that it is "willing to engage constructively and contribute to a credible and balanced outcome, which withstands the test of development at MC12 and beyond."