Agricultural Rules Must Prioritize Food Security and Food Sovereignty

The top priority for a genuine development agenda in trade would be transforming the current rules on agriculture.

Rich countries, not the poor, are currently allowed to subsidize agriculture under WTO rules in the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) – even in ways that distort trade and harm other countries’ domestic producers. By contrast, most developing countries are only allowed miniscule subsidies. Supports by China and India to farmers on a per capita basis remain miniscule – only a few hundred dollars per farmer, as compared to tens of thousands for the United States. Supports in Africans and many Middle Eastern countries and LDCs should be increased even if they don’t have existing programs.

But the SDGs entreat countries to increase investment in sustainable agriculture. Also, there is growing acceptance of the “right to food” as a human right. One of the international best practices for supporting farmers’ livelihoods, ensuring food security, and promoting rural development is “public stockholding.” But these programs - in dozens developing countries - often run afoul of WTO rules – even though the agriculture supported is not traded in global markets.

Countries should have the right to support the production of food that is consumed domestically. Thus, Public Stockholding programs for Food Security must be considered as part of the Green Box, and thus not subject to limits or reductions commitments. WTO members agreed to find a permanent solution to the public stockholding programs by December 2017. At MC12, WTO members should deliver a positive resolution on the public stockholding issue that allows all developing countries to implement food security programs without onerous restrictions that are not demanded of developed countries’ trade distorting subsidies.

Countries should not have the right to damage other countries’ markets. Thus, export subsidies should be banned, and this includes domestic subsidies that go towards products that are exported. Domestically subsidized food should not be exported in a way that damages other countries’ markets, whether it was in a public stockholding program or is used as feed or other inputs for exported food.

Countries should have the right to protect their domestic markets from dumping by other countries. For some countries, import surges are a significant problem, and thus they should have recourse to a Special Safeguard Mechanism that is workable in their context. The SSM proposed in Rev 4 is inadequate because it has too many onerous conditionalities and triggers that would make it nearly impossible to use.

Countries should be able to use tariffs to protect domestic food markets. In any future negotiations, developing countries should not have to cut tariffs. In the case that there would be any future tariff cuts, then developing countries should have full recourse to Sensitive Products and Special Products. Developed countries should also be able to maintain tariffs that protect Food Security.

Subsidies that the US and the EU provide to cotton producers enrich a few thousand there, but have unfairly decimated production of hundreds of thousands of cotton farmers in Africa. It is unfortunate that WTO members did not decide to significantly reduce or eliminate developed countries’ domestic supports for cotton at MC11.

Civil Society Statements and Analysis

Rebuilding the WTO for a sustainable global development: English, French. (Jacques Berthelot, SOL France, July 2020)

Agreement on Agriculture and Food: Preliminary proposal: English, French. (Jacques Berthelot, SOL France, 22 January 2019)

Inequitable WTO rules in agriculture continue to impact farmers in the developing world: English, Spanish. (Ranja Sengupta, ALAI, April 2018)

Agriculture remains key. (Ranja Sengupta, 22 November 2017)

WTO summit to ignore price crisis, agricultural dumping. (Timothy Wise, 10 December 2017)

WTO and Food Security: Biting the hand that feeds the poor. (Timothy Wise, December 2017)

For India, the fight at WTO will be about food security. (Sachin Kumar Jain, 9 December 2017)

Other Key Analysis

Disciplining Trade-Distorting Support to Cotton in the US: An Unfinished Agenda in WTO Negotiations. (Centre for WTO Studies, India, January 2021)

A Quantitative Analysis of Proposals on Domestic Support in WTO Agriculture Negotiations: Need for Reaffirming the Development Agenda. (Centre for WTO Studies, India, September 2020)

Demystifying Blue Box Support to Agriculture Under the WTO: Implications for Developing Countries. (Centre for WTO Studies, India, September 2020)

Special Safeguard Mechanism for Agriculture: Implications for Developing Members at the WTO. (Centre for WTO Studies, India, August 2020)

Articles & Updates on the Negotiations

Agriculture talks in disarray over assault on development, S&DT issues, by D. Ravi Kanth. (10 February 2021)

Proponents of proposal on export restrictions suffer major setback, by D. Ravi Kanth. (22 December 2020)

Questions raised on exempting WFP purchases from export restrictions, by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 December 2020)

North provided billions in farm support during COVID-19, by D. Ravi Kanth. (27 June 2020)

India invokes MC9 decision for food security public stockholding, by D. Ravi Kanth. (7 April 2020)

Chair suggests incremental outcomes on SSM & PSH at MC12, by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 February 2020)

US escalating efforts for market access outcomes in agriculture, by D. Ravi Kanth. (31 October 2019)

Agriculture: US not ready to negotiate domestic support issues, by Kanaga Raja. (22 July 2019)

Major North countries targeting South over agriculture, by D. Ravi Kanth. (15 March 2019)

Developed countries turn their backs on permanent solution for PSH, by D. Ravi Kanth. (9 October 2018)

G33 for policy instruments to improve food security, by D. Ravi Kanth. (16 July 2018)

China-India renew battle to end US-EU agri-support policies, by D. Ravi Kanth. (9 July 2018)

US-Australia-Brazil try hijacking Doha agri-talks from core mandates, by D. Ravi Kanth. (30 May 2018)

US aiming to make flawed and skewed UR agri-disciplines permanent, by D. Ravi Kanth. (16 May 2018)

CSOs disappointed over MC11 failure to deliver on PSH, development, by Kanaga Raja. (15 December 2017)

CSOs deeply disappointed with MC11 draft agriculture text of 12 December. (14 December 2017)

US NO to improving PSH peace clause, MC11 inching to collapse, by D. Ravi Kanth. (13 December 2017)

G33 call for strong outcome on PSH and SSM, by D. Ravi Kanth. (12 December 2017)

Agriculture: Talks in final stretch with limited time before MC11, says Chair, by Kanaga Raja. (20 November 2017)

No convergence on PSH or domestic support reduction, by D. Ravi Kanth. (1 November 2017)

Moves for permanent solution for PSH for MC11 ministers, by D. Ravi Kanth. (26 October 2017)

US NO to Cotton-four, but China-India welcome proposal, by D. Ravi Kanth. (20 October 2017)

"Will not pay for mandated permanent solution for PSH", insist G33, by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 September 2017)

Agriculture: No credible outcomes likely at MC11 on domestic support, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 September 2017)

South nations for ending AMS, cuts in "green box" in agriculture, by D. Ravi Kanth. (17 July 2017)

EU and Brazil oppose end to 'green box' cotton payments, by D. Ravi Kanth. (11 July 2017)

Permanent solution for PSH seems unlikely at MC11, by D. Ravi Kanth. (2 June 2017)

G33 insist on unambiguous outcomes at MC11 on food security, by D. Ravi Kanth. (28 April 2017)

PSH must cover all DCs, not country-specific, by D. Ravi Kanth. (23 March 2017)

LDCs push for concrete outcomes at MC11 on agri domestic support, by D. Ravi Kanth. (23 January 2017)

Diminishing power of small-scale farmers in cocoa GVCs, by Kanaga Raja. (9 December 2016)

Cotton producers call for an outcome on cotton at MC11, by Kanaga Raja. (30 November 2016)

Agriculture: Proposals tabled on domestic support, market access, by Kanaga Raja. (25 November 2016)

US, EU and Australia want "hefty payment" for PSH and SSG, by Ravi Kanth. (25 July 2016)

Deliver on "Cotton issue" before e-commerce talks, WTO told, by D. Ravi Kanth. (12 July 2016)

Developing countries stress on importance of SSM, by Kanaga Raja. (17 May 2016)

Hollowness of Nairobi export competition accord exposed, by D. Ravi Kanth. (13 May 2016)

Time for Developing Countries to sue US, EU over AoA violations, by Jacques Berthelot. (7 April 2016)

SSM, public stockholding priority issues, say South, by Kanaga Raja. (14 March 2016)

Nairobi green signal for continued US trade-distorting agri-exports, by D. Ravi Kanth. (23 December 2015)

Civil society expresses shock at draft agriculture text, by Ranja Sengupta. (18 December 2015)

Rights expert calls for concrete outcomes on food security, by Kanaga Raja. (17 December 2015)

China, India, Indonesia & SA press for outcome on food security, SSM, by D. Ravi Kanth. (15 December 2015)

CSOs stress on development, food security, LDC issues at MC10, by Kanaga Raja. (15 December 2015)

Previous work

OWINFS has campaigned for the above policy changes to the WTO since our founding. For our work before 2017, please see here.