Olivier De Schutter

Two years ago, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to food, Olivier de Schutter, claimed in his first report that the ‘‘Doha Round will not prevent a food crisis’’. Not much has changed since 2009 as Doha negotiations remain stalled. However, a war of words persists between Schutter and WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy since the release of this initial report. The UN Special Rapporteur has accused WTO of maintaining a trade policy framework that undermines the full achievement of the right to food. Hence, the lack of compatibility between the agriculture trade system and the broader human rights framework.  More recently, Schutter has publicized a briefing note “The World Trade Organization and the Post-Global Food Crisis Agenda: Putting Food Security First in the International Food System” (November 16) in which he argued that the WTO is holding food security ‘’hostage’’ by establishing reductionist trade rules and enforcing trade dependency in developing states in their struggle to achieve food security.

Food security in developing countries is jeopardized by the increasing pressure on these states to promote trade which affects local agriculture production, especially through competition with agro-export multinationals and decrease in investments in domestic agriculture. According to Schutter, there is a need for “higher tariffs, import restrictions, state purchase from smallholders, active marketing boards, safety net insurance schemes, targeted farm subsidies," and to "reconsider the creation of food reserves’’ to ensure food security in developing countries. Small-scale farmers must be supported, and safeguards applied, to ensure no damaging consequence of price volatility for these countries. Despite advancing potential solutions to food insecurity, Schutter claims that the WTO leaves no ''policy space'' for developing countries to implement such policies and measures.

Following the strong accusations made by Schutter, WTO director-general, Pascal Lamy, did not take long to react and responded to these claims with a letter noting his opposition to several points advanced by the Special Rapporteur.  Pascal Lamy's letter (December 16)  comes at a time where the debate on ''food security'' and ''trade'' is still raging. Responding to Schutter, Lamy maintains a strong point in advocating for the importance of trade as a tool to enable food security. In addition, Lamy underlines that ''Highly trade distorting support, the use of export subsidies, high levels of protection, and unpredictable trade measures restricting imports or exports were among the causes of the price spikes in 2008 and 2010.'' 

As the debate on food security continues to evolve, WTO remains constrained by its lack of leadership in food security and by the political power and control of member states in the scope of action of this organization. However, developing countries still await to see who will take the lead in governing global food security. Earlier this year, the G20 adopted the ‘’Action plan on food volatility and agriculture’’ which was perceived as an important step to address the symptoms of  food insecurity in the world.


(Photo © Bernd Eidenmüller)