Okonjo-Iweala reiterates importance of trade in ensuring food security

World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General anf former Nigeria’s Foreign and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has lamented that the sharp increase in food and energy prices, which was triggered by the Russian/Ukraine war, has created food security problems for developing countries.

She said this last week during a virtual meeting with WTO member countries, noting that the least developed countries in particular, are more at the receiving end of the crisis, suffering from the lack of access to food, fertiliser and unaffordable prices, resulting from exchange rate volatility and depreciation.

With one in five calories traded internationally, she said the role of trade was key in helping to solve the problem of access, building resilience and managing the volatility of food and energy prices. She said it has become imperative to keep an open, predictable and stable international multilateral trading system.

WTO members have adopted a ministerial declaration on the Emergency Response to Food Insecurity, where members reaffirmed the importance of not imposing export prohibitions or restrictions in a manner that is inconsistent with relevant WTO provisions.

The WTO DG noted that 100 export restrictions on food and fertiliser were imposed following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine but the number of measures has fallen to 63. She further noted that WTO members were also seeking to advance negotiations on agriculture and place a greater spotlight on food security concerns.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative allows for commercial food and fertiliser, including ammonia, exports from three key Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea as supported by the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Russia and the Secretariat of the United Nations on shipment of food products and fertilisers to the world markets.

United Nations Coordinator for the Initiative, Abdullah Abdul Samad Dashti, said 30.5 million tonnes of grains have now been exported to 45 countries through the initiative, contributing to lowering global world food prices.

CEO and Director-General of the International Fertiliser Association (IFA), Alzbeta Klein, said while the initiative is important for global food security and the situation regarding fertiliser shipments has improved, the affordability of nitrogen and phosphates was still a problem for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) due to the depreciation of local currencies.

“One thing that we learned over the past year is that food security, which we took for granted for many decades, is extremely vulnerable, much more vulnerable than we ever thought it was.

“The Black Sea region represents more than 70 million tons of grains every year. We don’t have another area elsewhere in the world that produces 70 million tons and is key in balancing the global grains markets,” he said. Adapted from the Guardian

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