New rules for a fairer future
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.