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Posts Tagged ‘tariffs

What use is the Committee on World Food Security?

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The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) opened its 36th session yesterday (11 October 2010). It’s described as “a five-day high-level intergovernmental meeting” which “takes place against a background of recent increases in international food prices which pose additional  challenges to food security”.

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) said the Committee aims to be “the most inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all relevant stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all. In its role as the cornerstone of the global governance of agriculture and food security, the CFS will be more effective in facing challenges to food security”.

I expected that now at least, when the price of food staples is rising the way it did in 2007, the FAO and its constellation of agencies and committees and task forces would quit moralising and get down to naming names and naming reasons for the rise in prices. After all, the FAO food price index is relied on by national governments, traders and commodity markets – all for different reasons of course. It’s absurd to imagine that FAO analysts cannot see the reason why those indices move.

But if you read FAO statements and press releases, it sounds as though the problems they are struggling to describe in real terms have nothing whatsoever to do with things like trade, speculative trading, hoarding, price gounging, dumping, trade rules, tariffs, embargoes and other instruments designed to beggar national neighbours and reinforce trading blocs.

The FAO still refuses to say that market forces – call it what you will, free market forces or speculative trade or consumerist economics – is very largely responsible for food shortages and food price spikes all over the world. If this 36th session of the Committee on World Food Security cannot, will not or dare not speak the truth, it may as well pack up and go home and save some money by disbanding.

As for the statements, sorry but we’ve heard it all before in varying shades of myopic optimism:

1) FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said “Global problems demand global as well as local solutions. The renewed CFS constitutes the required platform for debating global complex problems and reaching consensus on solutions.”

2) “This week marks the launch of a strategically coordinated global effort to draw on the combined strengths of all stakeholders engaged in the fight against global hunger,” said World Food Programme  (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

3) International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) vice-resident Yukiko Omura said: “Investing in small farmers — improving their access to land, to appropriate technology, to financial services and markets, and responding to their other requirements — is the most effective way to generate a broad-based movement out of poverty and hunger.”

Messers Diouf, Sheeran and Omura, set aside your prepared statements and summon up the courage to tell the countries which support the FAO the truth about global food prices. Tell them about the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and free trade agreements and the conditions attached to development aid. Help your agencies do their work by being honest about the problem.

‘Give us this day your markets’

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Handing out food packets at a rally

Handing out food packets at a rally. With rising food prices, this could become a common sight in India's cities and towns.

The interests of US agribusiness and food exporters is being strenuously supported by a new report from the US International Trade Commission (USITC), released in November 2009, on ‘India: Effects of Tariffs and Non-tariff Measures on US Agricultural Exports’. The report has argued that India’s agricultural tariffs are keeping out American exports, that such obstruction is a concern to the USA, and that removal of these tariffs can result in a leap of up to 60% in US agricultural exports to India.

The USITC report has said: “Despite robust US agricultural exports worldwide, US exports to India are limited, both in value and in the range of products. In 2008, India received less than one-half of 1% of total US agricultural exports and ranked 39th among overseas markets for US agricultural products. Moreover, US agricultural goods accounted for only 6% of the Indian agricultural import market in 2008, compared to an 18% share of global markets.” The report has pointed to what it calls India’s “sizable and growing middle class” which is “expected to reach 500 million by 2025, which includes many affluent urban consumers interested in Western-style foods” as offering great potential for US agricultural business.

Rice fields in Goa

Rice fields in Goa. Why we need our rice to remain indigenous and locally available.

The report has complained that the “low level of US agricultural exports to India is a concern to the US agricultural community, business representatives, and policymakers”. The USITC report added that these groups view “high Indian tariffs and burdensome non-tariff measures (NTMs) as principal reasons impeding US products from entering the Indian market”. The study team stated that the USITC through this report has responded to a request by the Senate Committee on Finance for information and analysis on the effects of Indian tariffs and non-tariff measures on US agricultural exports and US agricultural firms operating in India.

There’s more in this report I wrote on the matter for Infochange India.