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WTO MC12: Export restrictions can blow up global food crisis, says DG

World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director General Okonjo Iweala Ngozi said on Sunday that member nations should not ‘underestimate’ the impact of export restrictions as such measures, when implemented by countries, can exacerbate the ongoing global food crisis.

“You saw that in the 2008-2009 food crisis, just those kinds of actions did lead to price spikes. In the food security declaration, our members are trying to speak about how they would try to restrain themselves from taking these kinds of actions. And this is a very important contribution that they can make to keep the price of food products from rising even higher. So I think that’s a very important contribution,” Ngozi said at the opening press conference of the four-day ministerial that started on Sunday in Geneva.

The world is currently staring at a shortage of foodgrains, skyrocketing crude prices and soaring inflation, triggered a conflict between Russia and Ukraine that started this year in February. These developments have hit the poor nations the hardest, especially nations that have been dependent on these countries for such supplies.

As many 23 countries, including India have imposed regulations on food exports to secure their food supplies. Last month, India had also imposed curbs on export of wheat and sugar, stating that the government didn’t want any surplus to go into the hands of hoarders who would then charge a huge amount from poorer nations. The decision on export curbs saw reaction from politicians across the world urging India to reconsider its decision, amid surging global food prices.

The DG further said achieving even one or two deliverables at this meeting can be called a success. However, she warned that even having consensus on one or two agreements will not be an easy road.

“The road will be bumpy and rocky. There may be a few landmines on the way. We’ll have to navigate those landmines and see how we can successfully land one or two deliverables,” she said, adding that now there is a need for a political will for ministers to go the last mile and agree on key issues–increasing access to Covid-19 vaccines, reducing fishing subsidies negotiations, agriculture issues including public stockholding for food security, and look at ways to introduce reform at the WTO.

The DG further said that the world has changed since the last ministerial, with millions losing their lives due to the Covid-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, resulting in major food, energy crisis and an ongoing climate change crisis.

“This polycrisis or simultaneous climate crisis is really unprecedented. And what is very central to all of this is that no one country can solve this crises on its own. This is the time that you need the world working together. You need global solidarity, you need to strengthen multilateralism and you need multilateral organizations like the WTO to deliver,” she said.

The 12th ministerial kicked off on Sunday, with member nations meeting after a gap of over four years in Geneva, Switzerland, as the event was postponed twice due to the outbreak of Covid-19. The meeting was originally due to take place in June 2020 in Kazakhstan as the country was chosen to chair the meeting.

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