Why Doha progress would mean even higher food prices

by | Apr 21, 2008

So far, most of the consensus on what to do about food prices is (as you might expect) strongly focused on the short term: measures like spending more cash on humanitarian aid, or building up social protection systems for the poorest and most at risk.  But one medium term measure also seems to command widespread consensus: we should press ahead with the Doha trade talks. Here’s Bob Zoellick at the World Bank, for instance:

If ever there is a time to cut distorting agricultural subsidies and open markets for food imports, it must be now. If not now, when?

Peter Mandelson, meanwhile, opines that “without a doubt” a trade agreement would help to restrain spiralling prices.  And for once, this is something where he and Gordon Brown agree: Brown’s recent letter on food prices to G8 heads has trade as the very first action point, noting that

We should surely redouble our efforts for a WTO trade deal that provides greater poor country access to developed country markets and cuts distortionary subsidies in rich countries.

Now you can’t fault the political opportunism here, of course: part of the reason for the push on liberalisation now is that, as food importing countries frantically slash their import tariffs to try to keep the grain flowing in, they’re also achieving liberalisation where trade negotiations have failed. 

But what effect will all of this have on food prices?  If the US and EU start eliminating their subsidies too, isn’t there a risk that the short term impact could be to increase food prices to poor consumers?  Why yes.  Indeed, Gordon Brown actually says as much in his letter to G8 heads [emphasis added]:

…in the short term net food-importing countries may need support to cope with higher prices as a result of liberalisation


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

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