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Promoting an Open and Equitable Global Food System

IPCPosition Paper

Agricultural Export Restrictions and International Trade Law: A Way Forward

Robert Howse and Tim Josling

September 2012

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This paper considers the effects of price insulating behavior during price spikes from the viewpoint of the functioning of the global trade system and provides a legal analysis of relevant WTO trade rules, with a particular focus on export restrictions.  Although conventional wisdom has held that existing WTO rules on export restrictions are weak, recent WTO jurisprudence points towards a different interpretation of these rules: namely that a country may not respond to a food crisis in a manner that is indifferent to the food security impacts on import-dependent countries.  The WTO itself is unlikely to be able to determine the likely impacts of one country’s price insulating measures on the food security of other countries, and this paper will argue that there is scope for the WTO to collaborate with an international organization that is primarily focused on questions pertaining to international and national food security.

An earlier report from the IPC examined the impacts of the export restrictions of 2008 on welfare and the international trade rules (Mitra and Josling, 2009). This paper updates and expands the earlier analysis, particularly by considering the 2010 price spike; incorporating recent legal developments with respect to the treatment of export restrictions under the WTO, and discussing multilateral actions that have been and could be taken to alleviate the problem.


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