Trade and right to food: UNCTAD and UN Human Rights issue open letter

13 June 2022

Heads of the two UN bodies call on world trade ministers to align policy and action to achieve global food security.


© PradeepGaurs/Shutterstock. A worker cleans wheat grain at a wholesale market in New Delhi, India.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan and UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on 13 June issued an open letter urging ministers participating in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 12th ministerial conference (MC12) to refrain from imposing export restrictions on food amid a crisis.

“The war in Ukraine inflicts dire hardship on the people of Ukraine and has increased the risk of hunger and famine for tens of millions of people who are on the verge of becoming or are already food insecure,” the letter read.

Coming after the COVID-19 pandemic, which compounded food insecurity, income reductions, and accumulated debt, the war has hit countries still on the path to recovery the hardest, Ms. Grynspan and Ms. Bachelet said.

Protecting the right to food

They urged ministers at MC12 to take the following actions:

  1. Refrain from imposing export restrictions on essential foodstuffs purchased by least developed countries (LDCs) and net food-importing developing countries (NFIDCs), as well as those purchased by the World Food Programme for non-commercial humanitarian purposes.
  2. Support financially and technically LDCs and NFIDCs in adopting comprehensive social protection measures to avert a food crisis.
  3. Increase financial support to LDCs and NFIDCs to mitigate their fiscal constraints in adopting policy measures to fight against hunger, via Paragraph 5 of the Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries.
  4. Address the need for LDCs and NFIDCs to increase their resilience to possible food supply shocks by allowing measures that may include input and investment subsidies, access to land, natural resources, seeds, credit, technology and markets to small-scale farmers and resource-poor food producers to bolster their agricultural production.

Enhancing food security for all

Beyond MC12, Ms. Grynspan and Ms. Bachelet said their organizations stood ready to work with WTO members, within their respective mandates, to address anti-competitive and unfair business practices, particularly when exercised in times of crisis.

“Hoarding, excessive stockpiling of basic foodstuffs and associated speculation, especially during global food shortages, adversely affect the enjoyment of the right to food and erodes efforts to achieve food security for all,” they said.