Food Insecurity: WTO Exempts WFP Humanitarian Food Purchases from Export Prohibitions

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CEM REPORT | The World Trade Organization (WTO) in its just concluded twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) has made far reaching declarations and decisions on food and agriculture towards fighting food insecurity across the globe

The 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the WTO held at the Organizations headquarter in Geneva on 12-17 June, 2022 and co-hosted by Kazakhstan and chaired by Mr Timur Suleimenov, Deputy Chief of Staff of Kazakhstan’s President.

In a brief, WTO stated the MC12 outcome package on agriculture which comprised a Ministerial Declaration on the emergency response to food insecurity and a Ministerial Decision on exempting World Food Programme (WFP) humanitarian food purchases from export prohibitions or restrictions.

Both respond to demands from the international community for immediate action by WTO members to address food shortages and soaring food prices and ensure that the most vulnerable can access emergency food aid.

The Declaration underlines the strong commitment by WTO members to take concrete steps to facilitate trade, which plays a vital role in improving global food security, and improve the functioning and resilience of global food markets. It also reaffirms the importance of not imposing export prohibitions or restrictions on agri-food trade in a WTO-inconsistent manner.

The WFP Decision was welcomed by World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley: “This humanitarian exemption … ensures critical relief reaches the most vulnerable.” DG Okonjo-Iweala said the Decision will make it easier for the WFP to “do its difficult job of feeding millions” suffering from acute hunger.

Ahead of the Ministerial Conference, the Director General of WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had tipped importance of addressing food crisis as one of the major deliverables at the conference. Others were the need to reach a credible WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic, successfully concluding the negotiations on fisheries subsidies, making some progress on agriculture, and addressing reform of the WTO.

Below is a detail of the Ministerial Declaration and decision on the emergency response to food insecurity adopted on 17 June 2022

Concerned that trade disruptions, record prices and excessive volatility for food and agricultural products could undermine food security in all Members, including in developing countries, and particularly in least-developed and net food-importing developing countries, who by virtue of their fiscal and other capacity-related challenges, as well as deteriorating terms of trade, are disproportionately affected by the crisis;

Concerned also that rising prices of food, agricultural products, and production inputs, including fertilizers, and associated trade restrictions, as well as increasing energy and transportation costs, could have lasting consequences for global food security in the coming years;

Determined to make progress towards the achievement of a fair and market-oriented agricultural trading system, ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, promoting sustainable agriculture and food systems, and implement resilient agricultural practices that enhance productivity and production in fulfilment of Sustainable Development Goal 2 of the United Nations, taking into account the interests of small-scale food producers in developing countries;

Acknowledging that progress towards this Goal has been undermined, with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Food Programme (WFP) in particular estimating a significant increase in the number and share of undernourished and food insecure people;

  1. We, the Ministers, have met in Geneva from 12 to 17 June 2022 at our Twelfth Session of the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, and have adopted this declaration on the emergency response to food insecurity.
  2. We agree that trade, along with domestic production, plays a vital role in improving global food security in all its dimensions and enhancing nutrition.
  3. We commit to take concrete steps to facilitate trade and improve the functioning and long term resilience of global markets for food and agriculture, including cereals, fertilizers, and other agriculture production inputs. Particular consideration will be given to the specific needs and circumstances of developing country Members, especially those of least-developed and net food-importing developing countries.
  4. We underscore the need for agri-food trade to flow, and reaffirm the importance of not imposing export prohibitions or restrictions in a manner inconsistent with relevant WTO provisions.
  5. We resolve to ensure that any emergency measures introduced to address food security concerns shall minimize trade distortions as far as possible; be temporary, targeted, and transparent; and be notified and implemented in accordance with WTO rules. Members imposing such measures should take into account their possible impact on other Members, including developing countries, and particularly least-developed and net food-importing developing countries.
  6. We resolve to cooperate with a view to ensuring enhanced productivity and production, trade, availability and accessibility and affordability of food for those who need it, especially in humanitarian emergencies.
  7. We reaffirm the disciplines on export competition in the Agreement on Agriculture, as well as the Nairobi Decision on Export Competition, including especially those on International Food Aid, and encourage donor countries to undertake efforts to make food available to poor and vulnerable countries, including through the WFP.
  8. We reaffirm the importance of effective implementation and monitoring of the Marrakesh Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries. In this regard, we commit to having a dedicated work programme in the Committee on Agriculture to examine how this Decision could be made more effective and operational pursuant to Article 16 of the Agreement on Agriculture and to consider concerns raised by Members in their current and future submissions. The work programme shall consider the needs of LDCs and NFIDCs to increase their resilience in responding to acute food instability including by considering the best possible use of flexibilities to bolster their agricultural production and enhance their domestic food security as needed in an emergency.
  9. We understand the importance of providing technical and financial assistance to LDCs and NFIDCs, including through international and regional financial institutions, with a view to improving their agricultural productive capacity, infrastructure and access to agricultural inputs.
  10. We recognize that adequate food stocks can contribute to the realization of Members’ domestic food security objectives and encourage Members with available surplus stocks to release them on international markets consistently with WTO rules
  11. We emphasize the importance of promptly sharing relevant information about policies that may affect trade and markets for food and agriculture, including by complying with WTO notification commitments and by actively participating in other relevant mechanisms for information exchange. We invite the Secretariat to provide regular updates on trade and market developments in the wake of the current food price spikes and excessive price volatility, in cooperation with other relevant international organizations.
  12. We acknowledge the positive role of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) in enhancing agricultural market transparency and policy responses for food security.
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