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« When Will World Leaders Listen to the Voices of the Poor? | Main | Lessons from China on the Food Crisis »

June 03, 2008

The WTO Cannot Solve the Food Crisis

IATP's Carin Smaller is blogging from Rome this week at the UN Food and Agriculture High Level Conference on Food Security.

The UN’s High-Level Conference on Food Security got off to a bang today. A flood of world leaders, heads of international organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector descended on the FAO’s headquarters in Rome to identify ways to solve the current food crisis. World leaders have made strong statements for and against biofuels, criticized agricultural subsidies in the rich world, and made accusations about who is and is not to blame for worsening the food crisis. The conference has also received its share of controversy with the attendance of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, accused of starving his own people, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who repeated his call for the destruction of Israel just before arriving at the conference.

But I want to talk about another theme that is being spoken about: the WTO's Doha Round. For months, the heads of the WTO, World Bank, IMF and the OECD, have used every public opportunity (and then some) to push for the completion of the WTO’s trade round to solve the current food crisis. I feel like we are being decieved.

The food crisis is the result of a series of circumstances, including dangerously low stocks for staple foods—wheat, rice, and corn; high oil prices; poor climatic conditions in major food producing areas; and natural resource depletion. On top of this, more and more people can now afford dairy products and meat; and, rich countries have started to use food crops for biofuels to supplement oil consumption.

The WTO has nothing to say about most of these issues. The climate and energy crises are both outside the WTO's mandate and will likely remain that way. The WTO has no control over the oil oligarchy, OPEC, nor over biofuels policies in the U.S. and Europe. Nor does the WTO have a say over how the world plans to address the growing environmental crisis, particularly climate change.

Instead, existing WTO agreements and the proposed Doha reforms are likely to intensify the food crisis. Further deregulation and liberalization will make agricultural markets more volatile and will strengthen the position of dominant players, mainly transnational agribusinesses like Cargill, Monsanto and ADM, in food and agricultural markets.

It is time to build a trading system that cooperates with international efforts to secure food for all. Trade agreements must allow governments to reestablish national and regional food stocks. Global commodity markets must be better managed. And it is time to create international competition laws to prevent transnational agribusinesses from abusing their market power. If world leaders started proposing these steps, we might start getting somewhere in resolving the crisis in our food system.

Carin Smaller

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