DOA: Japan's Bid to Halt LDC Food Export Bans @WTO

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/01/2008 02:16:00 PM
It's the rallying cry for governments the world over, rich and poor alike, in this day and age of spiralling commodity prices: food security. And, of course, food security is closely tied with national security as food shortages can bring about riots and other mass disturbances. Recently, I discussed Japan's efforts at the WTO to limit the ability of food exporting countries to restrict their food exports. There is, of course, a lot of hypocrisy involved in Japan's effort as it maintains one of the most subsidized agricultural industries in the world. In effect, Japan wants to employ a classic beggar-thy-neighbour strategy: Make everyone else pay the price for maintaining a highly protected agricultural industry, but hey, keep the agricultural goods flowing to Japan anyway to ensure Japanese food security, never mind that of the exporting countries.

Thankfully, this bit of hypocrisy has been shot down at the WTO, and rightly so. It is not only hypocritical, but unconscionable as well. I may not be too bright, but starve-thy-neighbour was never going to be a viable option at a multilateral body. From Agence-France Presse:

A proposal at the WTO Wednesday by Japan and Switzerland to restrain bans on food exports failed to garner support although some countries described the move as timely, trade sources said. The two net food importers, responding to a global food crisis, want countries imposing restrictions to be required to notify the World Trade Organisation ahead of the move, as well as to justify the action.

The country planning restrictions would then have to consult with member states that could have an interest as a food importer. If a decision could not be reached within 60 days of the consultations, the matter would go to arbitration, under the plan. Any new export restriction would have to be halted pending judgement from a standing committee of experts.

First secretary at the Japanese mission to the WTO Takaaki Kawakami earlier told AFP: "We are not against the prohibitions and the restrictions of exports. But the countries heavily dependent on the imports like us do not want the food security of our population to be put in danger."

While the proposal would not stop countries from imposing restrictions, the two proponents hope that the additional procedure would lead to discussions among nations on the subject.

The European Union and India were among those describing the move as "timely," according to trade sources here. But they said the proposal met with only a lukewarm response overall. They added that the representative for the European Union had said the bloc did not agree with all aspects of the text, without specifying which sections were objectionable. And India, according to the sources, argued that it would be "impossible" to provide advance notification.

Countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all recently imposed limitations on the export of certain produce in order to ensure food security for their populations.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday ordered a top level task force to take on the global crisis caused by rising food prices and urged key producer nations to end export bans.