How Freer Trade Can Help Feed the Poor

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How Freer Trade Can Help Feed the Poor

An agenda for easing hunger worldwide by reducing trade protectionism

John Nash and Donald Mitchell


RADE POLICY may not, at first glance, seem like the ideal tool for combating hunger. But eradicating costly protectionist barriers may be one of the best ways to put food on the tables of the poor. The world produces more than enough food to feed everyone. Yet about 840 million people, or almost one-sixth of the world’s population, still suffer from undernourishment. The overwhelming majority of these—about 92 percent—suffer from chronic undernutrition, rather than the acute hunger that grabs headlines in periods of man-made or natural disasters. Part of the problem is the obsession in both developed and developing countries with the idea that increasing national food crop production, rather than raising incomes, is the best way to achieve food security. This preoccupation in developing countries has been exacerbated by the inordinately high support for agricultural production in industrialized countries, which causes huge distortions in global food markets (see “Picture This,” F&D, September 2004). It has been a costly distraction both in countries’ own policies and in negotiations in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha Round trade talks. Global trade liberalization is only one weapon in the arsenal to fight hunger, but it can make an important contribution by delivering cheaper food in protectionist countries and boosting the global economy, helping to lift millions out of poverty. This is one reason why it is essential that the Doha Round agreement lower barriers to trade in food

products in rich and poor countries. This article examines how trade policy can be harnessed to help reduce poverty and alleviate hunger and outlines an agenda to reduce food insecurity in developing countries.

Production rising Food production, stocks, and exporting capacity are not at the root of the problem of undernutrition....