For purposes of ensuring food security, governments may purchase crops and food products from local farmers and sell them (at subsidized rates) or distribute them free of charge to the poor and food insecure households during times of need. Such initiatives are referred to as public stockholding programmes for food security (PHF). The WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) sets out conditions under which such programmes should be implemented so as not to be considered trade distorting.
However, the conditions in the AOA that were set during the Uruguay round of negotiations are presently considered limiting to certain countries/governments capacity to implement PHF programmes without being considered trade distorting. As a result, the issue has been brought to the forefront of WTO negotiations with a mandate to find a permanent solution by the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference of 2019. It is on this basis that the EAC Geneva Forum held a meeting to review the state of play in the EAC member countries with regard to their respective government policies and existing PHF programmes.
The deliberations specifically focussed on PHF programmes being implemented or that have been implemented in the recent past; the staple foods typically stocked in such programmes; how purchase price is determined; the stock disposal criteria; and whether there are monitoring and reporting mechanisms in place, so as to fulfil WTO obligations and requirements.
Key highlights from the deliberations were as follows:
- Only Kenya and Tanzania are implementing PHF programmes, which will require other EAC members to push for a permanent solution that takes into account countries without PHF programmes presently. This will be important since the need for such programmes exists, especially in light of weather vagaries and increasing populations in the region
- There is need to carefully negotiate for an appropriate safeguard mechanism so as to ensure the PHF programmes operated by big developing countries do not destabilise food prices to the detriment of the smaller countries
- Transparency in operating PHF programmes is very important, however it should not be burdensome especially to the small developing countries and LDCs.
Delegates expressed their appreciation for the meeting background papers that reviewed the state of play in EAC with regard to PHF programmes. The notes brought to light the prevailing situation with regard to PHF policies and programmes that will assist in their submissions during the negotiations.It was decided that the next Forum meeting will deliberate on Industrial policies in the EAC vis a vis the G90 proposal on Industrial policy.