Bread is not coal: Food out of WTO and a binding Food Treaty under the post-MDG Consensus


The difficulties encountered during the Doha Round at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have made imperative a new debate on global food politics and the perverse effects of the current food production and trade model on the poor food producers. Many critics have long argued that removing agriculture from the WTO would be the necessary first step[1]. WTO law does not really consider the full range of human, social and environmental rights and the factors that define agricultural specificity. Bread cannot be equally considered than coal, as we do not need coal to survive but we do need bread (as an iconic image of food for westerners, although I could have said rice, maize of fish). Even if the current gridlock could be overcome, it is unlikely that the WTO Agreement of Agriculture, with its single-minded emphasis on export production, will encourage farming practices that respect ecological limits and contribute to food security[2].

Therefore, the WTO and the international trade legal framework do not seem to be the appropriate scenario where the world´s food security should be debated. No government should be forced to choose between honouring its commitments made under free trade treaties or at the WTO, and honouring its obligations regarding the right to food[3]. With the Doha Round of WTO negotiations at an impasse, the time has come to remove agriculture from the purview of the WTO and to assess whether an alternative global governance regime might better address the converging food, climate, and agrobiodiversity crises.

The post-MDG negotiating process is already starting, and there is ample evidence that several MDG goals will not be achieved by 2015, no matter how fast and committed the world will be in the years to come. Basically, all the four MDGs directly related to an improved nutritional status are deemed to fail (MDG 1, 2, 4, 5). In that sense, several proposals are making its way to present international binding agreements as feasible solutions to soft commitments (i.e. verbal promises and written declarations). We need to transit from soft-law declarations of good will to hard-law binding agreements, with specific monitorable goals, calendar of financial disbursements, ratified by Parliaments, with sanction and redress mechanisms, more participatory and accountable and with peer-to-peer assessment mechanisms. Three proposals are presented below:


2.- Climate Change:

3.- Hunger:

Hopefully, stronger binding agreements may be the next wave of international commitments in the post-MDG talks, what could be called the Post-MDG Consensus.

[1] Rosset, PM (2006). Food is different: Why we must get the WTO out of agriculture. Zed Books, London.

[2] Gonzalez, CG (2012). The global food system, environmental protection, and human rights. Natural Resources & Environment, Vol 26, No. 3. Accessed on 15 April 2012

[3] De Schutter, O (2011). The World Trade Organization and the post-global food crisis agenda: putting food security first in the international trade system. Briefing note by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Louvain.