WTO report by UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Original Publication Date: 
4 February, 2009

The present report seeks to explore the relationship between the agreements concludedunder the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO), particularly the Agreement onAgriculture, and the obligation of the Members of the WTO to respect the human right toadequate food. It is based on the mission of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food to theWTO.
In the report, the Special Rapporteur argues that, if trade is to work for developmentand to contribute to the realization of the right to adequate food, it needs to recognize thespecificity of agricultural products, rather than to treat them as any other commodities, and toallow more flexibilities to developing countries, particularly in order to shield theiragricultural producers from the competition from industrialized countries’ farmers. The mainimpacts of the current multilateral trade regime on the right to food include (a) increaseddependency on international trade which may lead to loss of export revenues when the pricesof export commodities go down, threats to local producers when low-priced imports arrive onthe domestic markets, against which these producers are unable to compete, and balance ofpayments problems for the net food-importing countries when the prices of food commoditiesgo up; (b) potential abuses of market power in increasingly concentrated global food supplychains and further dualization of the domestic farming sector ; and (c) potential impacts onthe environment and on human health and nutrition, impacts that are usually ignored ininternational trade discussions, despite their close relationship to the right to adequate food.
The report proposes ways to reconcile trade with the right to food, addressing thefailure of global governance mechanisms to tackle the lack of coordination between humanrights obligations and trade commitments – a failure which mechanisms ensuring a bettercoordination at the domestic level may not be able to compensate for. The report invitesStates to assess the impacts of trade agreements on the right to food and ensure they do notaccept undertakings under the WTO framework which would be incompatible with theirright-to-food obligations.