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UN Official: Doha Trade Round Will Not Prevent Another Food Crisis

The U.N. Special Investigator on the Right to Food says trade does not work for the benefit of the poor, but favors the wealthier countries. The investigator urges poor countries not to sacrifice short-term interests in importing cheap food at the expense of long-term agricultural development.

The report examines trade liberalization in agriculture from the perspective of the human rights to adequate food. From that view, the report's author finds the World Trade Organization and the international trading system wanting.

U.N. Special Investigator on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter says the Doha Round trade agreement in agriculture has failed to solve world hunger.

He notes there are more than 960 million hungry people and the global food crisis is responsible for more than 100 million people falling into hunger since 2005.

He says the least developed countries and many developing countries have not benefited from improved access to markets of the industrialized countries.

He says removing trade distorting measures, which disproportionately benefit wealthy countries, is not enough to solve the problem of hunger and to solve the global food crisis.

"This further implementation of the reform program is based on an illusion that by removing existing distortions, we will achieve a level playing field. This is simply not true," he said. "We all know that even without these subsidies, which are heavily biased in favor of OECD countries in the current situation, the differences in productivity would remain extremely important between developing countries and developed countries in general."

In 2006, De Schutter notes agricultural labor productivity in the least developed countries was just 46 percent of that in other developing countries and below one percent of the level in developed countries.

He says these figures show that trade liberalization and reforms proposed in the Doha Round would still make it impossible for the poor countries to compete with the rich ones.

The U.N. Investigator says the single most important threat to future food security in the world is climate change. He says food production will decrease by eight percent between now and 2080 as a result of climate change. This will particularly impact sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

In addition, he says the world population is expected to grow to more than nine billion people by 2050, thereby increasing the food needs. He argues that international trade may accelerate climate change.

"Food needs to be transported over very long distances when it fits into global supply chains. And, secondly, and far more importantly, because international trade encourages modes of agricultural production, which actually produce greenhouse gas emissions, which use large amounts of water and which leads to depletion of soils," said De Schutter.

The report argues that trade is not a substitute for building the capacity of each country to feed its own population. It says states should not trust international trade to achieve food security in a sustainable manner.

De Schutter notes at least half of the world's hungry are small-scale farmers in developing countries. Another 30 percent, he says are landless laborers, herders, fishermen, and forest users. The remaining 20 percent are the urban poor.