International trade is part of the solution to the global food crisis and not one of its causes, the head of the World Trade Organization says.
Global integration represented by trade enabled food to be transported from where it could be produced efficiently to where there was demand, said WTO Director General Pascal Lamy.
Geography meant many countries – Egypt, for example – could never be self-sufficient in food, he said in a speech prepared for an International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council conference in Salzburg, Austria.
“International trade was not the source of last year’s food crisis,” Lamy said. “If anything, international trade has reduced the price of food over the years through greater competition, and enhanced consumer purchasing power.”
Sharp rises in food prices in 2007 and 2008 led to riots in many countries over food shortages.
Lamy said Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, had condemned an excessive reliance on trade in the pursuit of food security, while some farmers’ groups had also called for greater self-sufficiency.
He noted agriculture accounts for less than 10 per cent of world trade, while only 25 per cent of world farm output is traded globally, compared with 50 per cent of industrial goods, Lamy said.
“To suggest that less trade, and greater self-sufficiency, are the solutions to food security, would be to argue that trade was itself to blame for the crisis,” he said.
Lamy said the sensitive nature of food meant agriculture received special treatment in international trade rules compared with industrial goods such as shirts or tires.