Addressing a group of agriculture ministers at the 12th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in Berlin on 18 January, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff highlighted the need to harness the power of multilateral trade agreements to meet the complex challenges facing the agricultural sector. In the run-up to the 12th Ministerial Conference in June, ministers need to work together, he said, to reform WTO rules. This would not only result in increased production in a sustainable manner but would also have a positive impact on the environment. This is what he said:
As we come to the close of the second decade of the second millennium, the challenges to agricultural policy, never inconsiderable, are of a different nature and magnitude than those faced by prior generations. Among these are major changes in weather patterns, emerging environmental constraints and the increasing use of trade measures to deal with geopolitical objectives. The technological context in which agricultural policies will be set is evolving rapidly. The global economy is well on its way to becoming to a large extent digital. While less understood, artificial intelligence will play an increasingly stronger role. Biotechnology will shape the production of food. Taken together these forces will shape global agriculture in the coming decades. The changes wrought will be as profound as those that occurred due to the Green Revolution(1). Added to these challenges will be demographic changes both in population size and location, outbreaks of animal and plant diseases and changes in consumer preferences affecting which foods are in increasing demand.
This past year was characterized by disruptive events — extremes of weather decimated the onion crop in India, swine flu had a severe impact on the domestic supply of pork in China, trade hostilities between the U.S. and China have shifted trade flows, and widespread bush fires in Australia are having a substantial impact on food production in that country.
The decision of Minister Julia Klöckner in hosting this 12th Agriculture Ministers’ Summit giving special attention to international trade is particularly timely as the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference will be held in June 2020. It is now necessary for agriculture ministers to join together to consider how best to provide answers to common concerns and to reflect solutions in trade negotiations in a demanding global policy and physical environment.
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