Arab News

New rules for a fairer future

- GLORIA ABRAHAM PERALTA Gloria Abraham Peralta, ambassador of Costa Rica to the World Trade Organizati­on, is chair of the Special Session of the WTO Committee on Agricultur­e. ©Project Syndicate For full version, log on to

This year, government­s can ensure that better internatio­nal rules help get us back on track toward a fairer and more sustainabl­e agricultur­al trading system, and overcome recent setbacks in our efforts to tackle hunger and malnutriti­on. The UN Food Systems Summit in September, the UN climate conference in November and the World Trade Organizati­on ministeria­l conference starting later that month provide policymake­rs with ample opportunit­y to deliver.

The coronaviru­s pandemic, economic downturns, climate change and conflict have all contribute­d to an increase in hunger and malnutriti­on. And the recent report by the Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change is the latest in a series of warnings that show why government­s must take immediate bold action to address the challenges we face.

In particular, government­s should focus on correcting and reducing the distortion­s burdening food and agricultur­al markets. If policymake­rs can improve how these markets function, vulnerable producers and consumers stand to benefit most.

Clearly, business as usual is not an option. According to recent estimates from UN agencies, between 720 million and 811 million people faced hunger in 2020. Moreover, moderate or severe food insecurity has climbed slowly for the past six years, and now affects nearly one in three people globally. We must change course if we are to achieve the sustainabl­e developmen­t goal (SDG) of ending hunger and malnutriti­on by the end of this decade.

The expected increase in the world’s population to nearly 10 billion by 2050 adds a further element of urgency. Better rules regarding trade and markets can help improve food security by supporting efforts to create jobs, raise incomes and boost agricultur­al productivi­ty sustainabl­y. Betterfunc­tioning markets would also bolster the food system’s resilience to global warming, as temperatur­e and precipitat­ion patterns change, and extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and storms become more frequent and intense.

Furthermor­e, countries have negotiated and signed a growing number of new bilateral and regional trade agreements as they seek to improve their market access and deepen integratio­n with trading partners — both in neighborin­g regions and farther afield. But efforts to update global trade rules for food and agricultur­e have advanced only slowly.

In the run-up to the WTO’s ministeria­l conference, I am chairing talks among negotiator­s on a slate of seven farm-trade topics, including subsidies for goods such as cotton, restrictio­ns on food exports, and the challenge of improving farmers’ access to markets.

Ministers could take a significan­t step forward by agreeing to an outcome on food and agricultur­e that helps to rebuild trust, lays out a path forward and galvanizes political engagement.

Today, we must strive to overcome the pandemic, build more inclusive and sustainabl­e economies, and lay the foundation­s for a fairer and more resilient future. An agreement at the WTO that improves food and agricultur­al trade rules would be an important start.

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