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UN: Align policies to achieve food security

Rules governing international trade of food and agricultural products should be crafted with an eye to improving countries' food security and other development objectives. For this, a pragmatic approach that would align agricultural and trade policies at the national level is needed, a new FAO report argues.

The expected increase in global trade of farm products along with shifting patterns of trade and multiples sources of risks to global supplies will give trade and its governance a heightened influence over the extent and nature of food security everywhere. As a result, the challenge for policy makers has evolved into one of ensuring that its expansion "works for, and not against, the elimination of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition," according to The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets (SOCO).

A decade of change
The global trade arena has changed notably in the past decade, with trade in food alone nearly tripling in value terms, driven in particular by fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and dairy products - all high-value categories where standards are typically more important than in staple commodities such as cereal grains.

On top of that, there are changes in economic geography. Latin America has become the largest net exporter of food, replacing North America, and ushering in a new political map of South-South trade flows. Meanwhile, regional trade agreements have proliferated, and while agricultural commodity imports tend to be dispersed among many countries, exports are concentrated in a few, which makes supply more vulnerable to sudden disruptions.

Focus on facts and flexibility
The SOCO report offers a nuanced counterpoint to the often ideological clash between advocates of protected and open markets, which often stem from differences in the definitions of trade and food security. In reality, countries may seek to follow different strategies along the policy continuum from prioritizing own production towards relying on more open markets at different times in their development trajectory, depending on how their circumstances change over time.

Moreover, the distinction between formally protected and liberal markets often fades due to the way trade rules are actually implemented. For example, while least-developed countries (LDCs) have reserved the right to apply the highest import tariffs (the so-called "bound tariff rates"), followed by developing countries, with the lowest tariffs in developed countries, in reality there is almost no difference in the tariffs actually applied by the three groups

Appropriate policies often depend on the extent to which national markets are developed and behave competitively and offer participants tools to manage risk. Where these conditions do not yet apply, "domestic support policies should not be rejected out of hand," SOCO argues.

Mainstreaming food security - itself a function of multiple sectors of economies that change over time - into the trade policy decision-making process is a way to make trade an "enabler" of sustainable development and the core goal of eradicating hunger.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
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