Food security: WTO warns of trade restrictions and cuts global growth forecast to 2.5%

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The Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, highlighted the important role that trade could play in helping member countries cope with what appeared to be emerging food crises due to of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

A trade official in Geneva also told reporters yesterday that the global economic growth originally forecast by the IMF of 4.2% would now see slower growth between 3.1 and 3.7% and that trade growth could be halved, from 4.7% forecast in October to 2.5. percent.

Okonjo-Iweala made the statement yesterday at an informal meeting of the General Council of the WTO, and also called for coordinated action to deal with the recent sharp rise in commodity prices which threatens food security in many many countries, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

She said: “Trade can help WTO members adapt and weather the shocks of events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine.

“Trade has been and will remain a key means of adapting to the growing global shocks the world is currently experiencing.”

She added, “Now is not the time to turn inward… Now is the time to stress the importance of multilateralism, global solidarity and cooperation.”

The WTO director-general observed that the COVID-19 crisis and the war between Ukraine and Russia have raised concerns about the vulnerability of global supply chains and led to calls in some quarters to relocate production and sourcing locally to ensure a stable supply of essential goods and necessities.

She stressed, however, that supply resilience “will ultimately be better served by deeper and more diverse international markets.

“Concentrating home supply and production, while understandable, could also create new vulnerabilities and may not be the best risk management strategy.

“A region’s wheat crop could be destroyed by drought, flooding or other weather events. A harsh winter and an earthquake could cut off electricity and industrial production,” she explained.

Okonjo-Iweala said the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia has caused immense human suffering and loss of life and triggered an ongoing humanitarian crisis.

“It has also dealt a severe blow to the global economy which is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic and has raised the specter of food shortages in countries dependent on Ukraine and Russia for imports of basic commodities. Already in Africa, prices of key commodities rose by 20-50% between January and March.

“For dozens of poor countries and tens of millions of people, basic food security is at risk. These countries have already experienced one of the slowest post-pandemic economic recoveries, and international cooperation on trade is needed to help mitigate the risks of poverty, hunger and even starvation and social unrest,” he said. she warned.

The Director-General noted that the UN Secretary-General has set up a three-tier steering committee comprising heads of government, heads of international organizations and technical experts to address the issue of soaring prices. energy and food.

The WTO should also play a key role in finding solutions to the food crisis, noted the Director-General.

In addition, the chair of the WTO agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Gloria Abraham Peralta of Costa Rica, was planning a conference on food security to take place at the end of April, while staff from the WTO secretariat also carried out an analysis of food security issues which will soon be shared with members.

“We at the WTO have a solid basis on which to consider viable solutions to the current crisis,” the director-general said.

She stressed that in the short term, international cooperation on trade would be needed to minimize the impact of supply shortages for key commodities whose prices are already high by historical standards and to ensure the smooth functioning steps.

While only 12 members have imposed export restrictions on food to date, coordinated government action is needed to avoid a repeat of the cascading export restrictions that have exacerbated rising food prices during of the 2008-2010 crisis.

The WTO has also urged countries with buffer stocks they can afford to share to coordinate the international marketing of wheat, barley, other grains and grains and oils, thus alleviating the shortage of supply.

The organization noted that countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina and France could increase wheat cultivation while others like China, Germany, Morocco, l Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Nigeria could boost global fertilizer supply.

Africa, which has abundant land and other resources, could also take steps to produce more food on its own using more adaptable varieties of wheat, maize and other crops, the WTO said. .

The DG further noted that trade facilitation measures could also be implemented to facilitate the free movement of goods, while efforts should be made to allow the UN World Food Program full access to humanitarian procurement. .

“Early notification and sharing of information regarding food supplies and stocks can help the international community to better manage the situation and ensure the proper functioning of markets,” she added.

Several members took the floor after the Director General’s intervention to show their support for the suggestions she highlighted.

Prior to the Director-General’s statement, the Chairman of the General Council, Ambassador Didier Chambovey of Switzerland, reported on his recent consultations with Members on substantive and administrative aspects related to the 12th Ministerial Conference of WTO (MC12).

The consultations took place in the first half of March and involved 42 delegations, including 12 group coordinators and one member group.

Regarding the exact dates of the postponed 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the WTO, the President said that it appeared that the conference would be held from June 12 to 15, 2022, with the meeting taking place entirely at the headquarters of the WTO. ‘WTO.

The Chair suggested that members proceed with this working hypothesis and specific dates in mind. He noted members’ desire for MC12 to be a streamlined and professional conference.

“WTO members agreed on February 23 that MC12 would take place during the week of June 13 in Geneva following the easing of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic in host country Switzerland. MC12 was scheduled to take place from November 30 to December 3, 2021 but was postponed due to the outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19,” the WTO said.

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