The World Trade Organization and the Millennium Development Goals: the role of multilateral trade negotiations in achieving food security for the world's most vulnerable populations.

Author:Bay, Benjamin J.
  1. INTRODUCTION II. THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS AND FOOD SECURITY A. Defining Food Security B. The Global Economic Downturn and the MDG Targets III. MIXING THE DEVELOPING AND DEVELOPED WORLD A. China B. India IV. PRIOR ACTION OF THE WTO AFFECTING FOOD SECURITY A. The WTO Agreement on Agriculture and the Uruguay Round B. Action Since the Uruguay Round V. THE DOHA ROUND AND CURRENT ISSUES ISSUES A. The Special Agricultural Safeguards B. The Special Safeguard Mechanism C. A New Twist: the Biofuels Issue VI. WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN IN THE DOHA ROUND A. Focus on Food Aid is Not Sustainable B. The SSM Solution VII. A NEW FOOD CRISIS, OR A NEW CALL TO ARMS? I. INTRODUCTION

    Free trade in agricultural products offers both benefits and complications for developing countries. Lowered trade barriers and increased access to other markets give an opportunity to developing countries to modernize and grow their farming systems while stabilizing food prices to allow for greater food security. However, developing countries can be at risk of increasing poverty and starvation through a flooding of their markets with highly subsidized goods, including those from trade-altering food aid programs from the United States and the European Union, driving small and medium sized farmers out of business and increasing poverty and hunger. (1) This is particularly a threat in developing countries with a significant percentage of their workforce engaged in subsistence farming. These countries need a comprehensive development strategy to promote a sustainable model of development and avoid a potential trade free-for-all, which developing countries will inevitably lose.

    The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the international organization created to "regulate international trade, reduce trade barriers, and ensure a level playing field for all its Members, big or small, rich or poor." (2) However, the WTO does not operate in a vacuum, and has emphasized that trade liberalization, the reduction or removal of both tariff and non-tariff restrictions on trade, "should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living." (3) To this end, while working directly to achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 8, specifically "Target 8a: develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, nondiscriminatory trading and financial system," (4) the WTO is attempting to be mindful of how the MDGs are interconnected, and therefore how trade liberalization will have an effect on other MDGs. In fact, the WTO acknowledges the connection between its activities and the actions to achieve MDG 1, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. (5) When looking at the position of MDG 8 vis-a-vis the other goals, MDG 8 was "born from the recognition that for poorer countries to achieve the other MDGs, it is important to create an international environment that facilitates their attainment by 2015." (6)

    The WTO's activities (in partnership with the UN, World Bank, and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) affect the ability to meet the short-term goals of the 2015 MDGs, but, more importantly, they are vital to sustaining the gains made in developing countries in the long term beyond the MDG deadline. This paper will lay out the ways the Doha Agricultural Negotiations can be used to ensure that the legacy of the MDGs is sustained for years to come: by including the use of a special safeguard mechanism, and moving away from a food aid-centric view of food security by developed countries.

    This paper will discuss the WTO's activities in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to food security, specifically focusing on whether Goal 8a (further develop an open and rule-based trading system) will hurt or help with MDGs related to food security: Goal 1 (Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger) and Goal 8b (Address the special needs of least developed countries). Part II of this paper will present the basic framework for the MDGs and the trade mechanisms that affect their achievement. Part III will identify the interests of key players on this issue, including China and India, whose food security situations and significant economic power affect international trade and straddle the traditional developed versus developing trade divide, creating obstacles for trade negotiations. Part IV will look at previous WTO action that affects food security in developing nations, while Part V will look at where the Doha Round currently stands on the issue. Parts VI and VII will suggest pragmatic ways to break the Doha Round deadlock and avoid the complete collapse of the negotiations while maximizing the potential of the Round to address food security issues through trade policy.


    In 2000, the United Nations set targets through the MDGs "by which progress in reducing income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion--while promoting gender equality, health, education and environmental sustainability--can be measured," and created the MDGs. (7) The MDGs are:

    Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

    Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

    Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

    Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

    Goal 5: Improve maternal health

    Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases

    Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

    Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for developments

    The MDGs break down into twenty-one quantifiable targets measured by sixty indicators to benchmark progress, while providing a "framework for the entire international community to work together towards a common end." (9) Relating to the issue of hunger, the MDGs include Goal 1 and within it Target 1.c: to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. (10) This goal reaffirms a previous pledge from the 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security to "achiev[e] food security for all and to an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015." (11) Although the percentage of people worldwide affected by hunger has decreased since 1990, from 20% to 16% depending on estimates, this is still far from the goal of a reduction by half. (12) Worse, the overall number of people living with hunger has increased since the creation of the MDGs, growing from 817 million people in 1990 to 830 million people in 2007, with the total number potentially topping one billion in 2010 as a result of the economic downturn and subsequent food crisis. (13)

    1. Defining Food Security

      Founded in 1945, the FAO is the world leader in international efforts to defeat hunger by providing expertise, information, technical assistance and support, and by providing a neutral forum to negotiate agreements and debate policy. (14) The FAO, who also partners with the WTO to give guidance on this topic, defines food security as "the physical and economic access for all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life with no risk of losing such access and as such is directly connected with livelihood in the developing countries." (15) Food security not only deals with the basic issues of malnutrition and hunger, but also the system that a country has to feed itself. (16) Half of the nearly

      one billion people in the world suffering from hunger are small-scale farmers, with eighty percentdirectly engaged in food production and twenty percent working as landless laborers, pastoralists, or fisherman. (17) The ironic but tragic connection between hunger and a life in food production in developing countries highlights how important agricultural trade policy is in achieving the realization of MDG 1.

    2. The Global Economic Downturn and the MDG Targets

      Before the recent world economic crisis began, 1.1 billion people were living on less than one dollar a day, and 923 million people were undernourished. (18) The crisis produced an increase in world food prices that has pummeled the developing world. Prices of wheat, a staple food for most of the planet, increased fifty-six percent from June 2010 to September 2010, and are now higher still, denying those who cannot afford increased access to their basic nutritional needs, decreasing food security in many developing countries, and forcing the World Bank to extend the Global Food Crisis Response Program (19) until at least June 2011. (20) Historically, food price volatility has been a constant factor in food security, usually arising from climate volatility causing poor production or even crop failures. The problems of the recent economic crisis have exacerbated price volatility, especially in staple goods, increasing the number of people at risk of hunger rather than reducing it. (21) This increase puts further strain on the development agenda with fewer than five years to meet the MDGs, and highlights that more systemic, longer-term solutions are required by international organizations, including the WTO, in order to meet and sustain MDG 1.


    The food security interests of WTO member states arc more complex than a simple developed world versus developing world relationship. While developing countries with severe food security issues are looking to developed countries to gain international market access while at the same time protecting their fragile domestic markets, developed nations such as the United States believe that the "primary responsibility for reducing food insecurity rests with each country, and that it is critical that all countries adopt policies that promote self-reliance and facilitate food security at all levels, including food availability, access, and utilization." (22) The United States' view on food security in relation to trade, shared by many other developed countries, is that open markets reduce food insecurity and that developing countries need to clean up any...

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