Compatibility of the WTO and the post-global food crisis agenda: Putting food security first in the International Trade System

Matias Margulis

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

Abstract / Description of output

This briefing note offers a preliminary assessment of the compatibility between the WTO and efforts to protect the human right to adequate food as part of the post-crisis food security agenda. Existing WTO rules do include certain flexibilities for States to pursue food security-related measures. From a right to food perspective, certain elements of the draft modalities in agriculture are an improvement on the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), most notably proposed changes to the green box criteria on public stock holding for food security. However, many of these modifications to the AoA are relatively modest and even these are by no means assured with the outcome of the Doha Round highly uncertain. Many elements of the AoA and the draft modalities continue to fall short of offering a favorable policy framework for the realization of the right to food, such as the narrow range of policy measures that could be used to potentially establish national and regional food reserves and domestic institutions to manage price and income volatility for poor rural households. Many WTO rules are highly ambiguous and inject a high degree of uncertainty into food security policy making, thereby discouraging States to develop and implement comprehensive and innovative national right to food strategies. Steps to establish a more certain and transparent policy environment would enhance international cooperation on the right to food. What is at stake is to encourage and strengthen the reinvestment in agriculture, which has been an acknowledged priority of the international community since 2007. The WTO negotiations should clearly reflect the renewed consensus for developing countries to increase public investment in agriculture and develop food security policies. In other words,the outcome of the Doha Round must not discourage policy innovation in food security, it has to nurture it. The Special Rapporteur on the right to food sets out a number of requirements aimed at ensuring the compatibility of the WTO framework with the pursuit of food security and the realization of the human right to adequate food. These include: (a) ensuring that the future criteria of the green box do not impede the development of policies and programs to support food security and that they are tailored to the specific national circumstances of developing countries; (b) avoiding to define the establishment and management of food reserves as trade-distorting support; (c) adapting the provisions of the AoA and other WTO agreements (in particular, in the area of public procurement) to ensure compatibility with the establishment of food reserves at national, regional and international level; and (d) allowing marketing boards and supply management schemes to be established.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyUnited Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2011

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • WTO
  • food security
  • agriculture


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