3 Feb 2014
Books/ Book Chapters
After Bali: WTO rules applying to public food reserves
FAO commodity and trade policy research working paper by Christian Häberli
Once more, agriculture threatened to prevent all progress in multilateral trade rule-making at the Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2013. But this time, the “magic of Bali” worked. After the clock had been stopped mainly because of the food security file, the ministers adopted a comprehensive package of decisions and declarations mainly in respect of development issues. Five are about agriculture. Decision 38 on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes contains a “peace clause” which will now be shielding certain stockpile programmes from subsidy complaints in formal litigation. This article provides contextual background and analyses this decision from a legal perspective. It finds that, at best, Decision 38 provides a starting point for a WTO Work Programme for food security, for review at the Eleventh Ministerial Conference which will probably take place in 2017. At worst, it may unduly widen the limited window for government-financed competition existing under present rules in the WTO Agreement on Agriculture – yet without increasing global food security or even guaranteeing that no subsidy claims will be launched, or entertained, under the WTO dispute settlement mechanism. Hence, the Work Programme should find more coherence between farm support and socioeconomic and trade objectives when it comes to stockpiles. This also encompasses a review of the present WTO rules applying to other forms of food reserves and to regional or “virtual” stockpiles. Another “low hanging fruit” would be a decision to exempt food aid purchases from export restrictions.