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WTO Public Forum explores linkages between trade, sustainable development and global recovery.

I was delighted to attend the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Public Forum 22 in Geneva with Baroness Hooper of Liverpool on 27 September 2022.  The forum was opened by the Director General of the WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the main theme was entitled ‘Towards a Sustainable and Inclusive Recovery – Ambition to Action’.  The forum involved delegates from a wide range of interests, including leaders of international organisations, academia, non-governmental organisations, private corporations, diplomats and parliamentarians.

The main plenary debate took place following a video presentation from the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres.  Mr Guterres talked about the challenges the world faces with a polycrisis, marked by the Covid19 pandemic, the climate crisis, increased geopolitical tensions and threats to global food security. The whole thrust of the debate was around the role that international trade can play, to be part of the solution to challenges faced by humanity.

The forum comprised of 144 sessions over four days dealing with an extremely wide range of topics all linked to how trade can help sustainable development and recovery. One of these sessions was organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the European Parliament. This session was aimed at parliamentarians to see if there is scope for a parliamentary contribution to global efforts to scale up food security.

As background to this session, it is worth noting that in June of this year, the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC 12) of the WTO took place on the issue of food security. There were two main topics up for negotiation – the first was a binding decision not to curb exports to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).  The second was a declaration on the WTO’s emergency response to food insecurity. This declaration acknowledges the role that trade can play in reducing hunger and improving food security worldwide and is the first ever multi-national agreement on food insecurity.

The session that I attended on the opening day was entitled ‘Food Security as a key element for a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive trading system’. This session was focussed on what parliamentarians in WTO states can do to improve food security through trade. Currently, around 700 million people live in hunger every day and if recent trends continue, that number could surpass 840 million by 2030.  Out of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), number two is Zero Hunger, and it calls for a change in global food and agricultural systems to reduce the number of hungry people in the world to zero by 2030. These problems have been greatly exacerbated, not only by Covid19 but also the war in Ukraine. Many poorer areas of the world rely on Russia and Ukraine for food imports and together, both countries account for 12% of the global share of food.

In my address to the session, I talked about what actions the UK were taking to improve food security. I mentioned the fact that while places in Africa and elsewhere had many extreme cases of hunger, foodbanks and hunger in the UK was on the increase with over 2.1 million food parcels (Trussell Trust) distributed to people between 2021-2022. Despite the UK’s food security strategy, published in June 2022, which is aimed at UK food security through “a combination of strong and consistent domestic production of food as well as a diversity of supply sources through trade”, hunger in the UK is still set to increase due to inflation and ever decreasing incomes.

The International Development Committee Report on Food Insecurity, July 2022, called on the UK government to tackle the immediate threats posed by the hunger crisis, by publishing a comprehensive strategy setting out its plan to address food insecurity generally, and trade should form a part of this. In addition, the report called on the government to increase humanitarian funding for food assistance programmes to reflect increase in global food and fuel costs and to meet need.

At the same time as this session took place, my colleague Baroness Hooper, was attending several sessions around the theme of women in trade and business.  Below is her account of those sessions.

Three working groups focussed on ways to encourage more women to participate in sustainable trade and related environmental challenges and highlighted practical steps to ensure that half the world’s population keeps up with the other half. Given that one third of the world’s SMEs are owned by women (WSMEs), it was concluded that there is nevertheless a need:- to have more disaggregated data on the subject; to improve the financial and technical abilities of women; to make the FinTech sector gender intelligent; for more gender equity in funding; to encourage more special all women Trade Missions and;   to find ways to provide gender conditionality in Trade Agreements. It was also noted that women’s jobs were more susceptible to A.I. because they tend to be low skilled.

Both Baroness Hooper and I found the conference very stimulating and constructive in using trade to move towards a more sustainable, secure and prosperous world.

Sir Mark Hendrick MP