Global Food Summit neglects the role of trade

Posted on November 20, 2023
Trade Agriculture Briefing image

On the day that the UK hosts the Global Food Security Summit (20th November 2023), the Trade Justice Movement and Transform Trade launch their new report, calling on the UK and other governments around the world to re-evaluate the trade system to shift the dial on food insecurity and unsustainable food production.

The concept note for the Global Food Security Summit, focuses on child malnutrition, climate change, agricultural technology and partnerships for innovation but makes no mention of trade.

“Trade is clearly the elephant in the room at the Summit. For too long, the global trade system hasn’t worked for small farmers and vulnerable communities in the Global South.” said Ruth Bergan, Head of Policy at Transform Trade, a trade justice charity.

“Aligning trade policy with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, removing trade-related rules which restrict farmer access to seeds and ensuring trade rules don’t block technology transfer are some of the fundamental issues that should be being tackled at the Summit.”

International trade rules under the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) form the basis for international trade in agricultural goods, but restrict the policy space that governments have to transition to sustainable agriculture and to prevent hunger and malnutrition.

“There’s lots the UK Government can do, both in its own trade agreements and at the World Trade Organisation, to promote a more sustainable and resilient agricultural system”, said Tom Wills, Director of the Trade Justice Movement.

“For example, the UK should work with other WTO members to ensure that trade rules enable strong regional markets which are less exposed to volatile global food prices.”

The joint report ‘Trade Rule and Agriculture: A Broken Relationship’ recommends that the UK should publish a trade strategy, ensure bilateral agreements don’t require that countries comply with strict intellectual property laws on seeds, and commit to greater technology transfer.

It also recommends a fundamental rethink of the AoA, so that the international approach to agriculture is tailored to the needs of developing countries, and trade rules support strengthened regional and local agricultural markets to shore up food security.

Welcoming the report, Ranja Sengupta, Senior Researcher at Third World Network,, asked "As the UK hosts the Global Food Summit, will the UK and other developed nations take responsibility for ensuring a fair, equitable and accessible global food trading system? If so, will they end the domination of a few countries and their agribusiness corporations? To do this, they will need fairer WTO rules that allow small farmers and consumers in developing countries and Least Developed Countries to benefit from it.

What developing countries and LDCs need from developed nations are: not being choked by massively subsidised exports from rich countries, which destroys productive capacity as well as livelihoods; being allowed the necessary policy space to develop and diversify their food production & trade that will enable them to deal with recurring food crises; enabling public food programmes to function in a manner that can support production and consumption by small-holders & the poor; and finally, stopping the extraction of productive natural resources and the control of seeds through the investment and intellectual property chapters of FTAs. It is high time the WTO and the FTAs became instruments of support rather than tools of profit-making for rich country agribusiness actively encouraged by western governments".

Download the joint report ‘Trade Rule and Agriculture: A Broken Relationship