Last week, IATP convened a high-level panel at the WTO Public Forum titled: “The Food Price Explosion: What Can the WTO Do?” The idea was to further a debate on the WTO's role in the food crisis, with some world leaders identifying the completion of the Doha Round to further liberalize global trade as part of the solution, while others, starting with civil society representatives, arguing that the model promoted by the Doha Round is partially responsible for the food crisis.
We put together a panel that represented these different perspectives, trying to base the discussion on facts and figures so as to identify possible bridges between various approaches. Hoping to reconcile such "schizophrenic" (in the words of one of the speakers) approaches in two hours would have been overly ambitious. What came clearly out of the discussion were two main points:
- The Doha mandate is far too limited to address the food price crisis comprehensively. Some call it inadequate, while some call it insufficient, depending on their perspective; and
- Despite the very serious crisis we are facing--75 million more food insecure people in the world in 2007, according to the FAO--the dichotomy between free-trade advocates and those who think the market needs to be regulated still exists. The panel put forward the need for the two camps to engage in a dialogue based on facts rather than on ideology, and to use this crisis as an "opportunity" to build a healthy and sustainable food system.
Below are some quotes from the panel. You can listen to the entire session (a little less than 2 hours) by clicking here.
Arze Glipo, convener of the Asia Pacific Network for Food Sovereignty, said:
“Long before food prices actually exploded, a long running agrarian crisis fueled by the development strategy of trade liberalization had already deprived millions of poor people access to their food entitlements (…). And on the other hand, the power of global corporations expanded enormously under globalization. Transnational agribusiness corporations such as Cargill or ADM have even made a killing out of the food crisis.”
“Agriculture needs to return to its function as provider of life rather than a source of huge profits for transnational corporations.”
Brad McDonald, representative for the International Monetary Fund in Geneva, stressed:
“Speculation can in principle increase or reduce futures prices and spot prices from the levels justified by fundamentals. Whether that possibility has been a reality is an empirical question that must be examined carefully using actual data of course. Speculative positions and commodity prices have indeed moved together; they are positively correlated. The interesting question then becomes whether there is a causal link between the two and, if so, in which direction. . .Statistical analysis, at least so far, finds little evidence that speculation has been behind the increase in food prices”
Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, highlighted:
“The problem is not so much high prices per se. Rather, the problem is the unpreparedness of States who have been addicted to cheap food and who have under-invested in agriculture as a result.”
“I will be preparing a report on the impact of the WTO on the right to food and I will very much put forward the need to anticipate the risk that because of their trade commitments, States might be obliged to sacrifice their obligations towards the right to food and this may not be allowed to happen; they must have the policy space necessary for them to protect the rights of their populations.”
Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia, Permanent Representative for India to the WTO, added:
“As things stand, the [Doha] Round cannot be expected to deliver a major outcome for expanding food production in developing countries or for addressing the food crisis in any substantial manner. Conversely, those who expect the Doha Round to worsen the global food situation perhaps give it too much credit.”
“The challenge of food security requires distributional interventions as much as production incentives. In developing countries, governments have to retain the power to maintain price stability in the interest of producers as well as consumers.”
Wally Smith, vice president, Dairy Farmers of Canada, said:
“I can assure you that Canadian supply managed farmers stand behind India and the developing countries in their effort to protect through SSM their farmers and their production vehicle.”
“Regulated systems like supply management provide better solutions and help prevent significant price instability. Our unique Canadian supply management experience is one example of how a country can effectively keep the lid on inflation for consumers, because according to official estimates, Canadian consumers paid 3 percent more this year for dairy products in a context of rising prices. However in contrast, consumers in France, Europe and the U.S. saw double digit increases for both eggs and dairy products in their countries.”