International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council
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International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council
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Promoting an Open and Equitable Global Food System

IPCPolicy Areas

Food Technology and Standards

In light of the expected doubling of food demand by 2050, the world's shrinking supply of arable land and water, and the growing use of agricultural feed stocks for industrial purposes, technological advancements will continue to play a vital role in the ability of agricultural and food production to meet the world's growing food needs. Innovation in food and agricultural production is necessary but often also invites controversy. Governments, companies, and consumer groups frequently differ on the acceptable level of risk associated with a new technology. The international trade of food products also raises concerns about the transmission of disease and pests.

Such issues are not new, nor are they invalid. However, these concerns can also be used to mask protectionist motivations. With increased trade liberalization, whether under multilateral, regional, or bilateral agreements, IPC anticipates such tactics will become more prevalent. Although many standards are enacted for legitimate reasons, there is a risk that new limitations placed on tariffs and subsidies will lead protectionist forces to resort to standards to shield domestic producers from international competition.

Unnecessarily burdensome and divergent standards are a challenge for all producers, since they erode the benefits offered by tariff and subsidy cuts, but they are particularly worrisome for producers in developing countries, who often lack the capacity and technology to meet them. Even though great efforts have been made to arrive at internationally agreed standards, many countries abide by standards beyond those agreed, or they block consensus on developing workable internationally agreed-upon standards. The resulting divergent standards are detrimental to developing country producers.

IPC believes that although countries should have the sovereign right to set their own standards, they should follow as much as possible internationally agreed standards. To this end, IPC supports standards in the production and trade of food and agricultural goods that are consistent with WTO regulations. IPC's efforts in this field are designed to encourage technological development, promote scientifically and technically valid standards, and advocate for non-trade distorting ways to accommodate consumer preferences.

Private sector standards are also increasingly an issue in the realm of international trade and competition. In a global trading system, the practices of commodity purchasers and food processing companies and the demands of consumers have significant effects on the sustainability of rural livelihoods. Consumers are demanding more sustainably produced food and agricultural products--even biofuels--and private companies are responding. The private sector's standards for meeting such "sustainability criteria" affect the ability of farmers to provide commodities for these companies. Given the fact that private sector directives to suppliers often carry more weight than government regulations and that business standards can lead to greater transfer of knowledge and technology than government measures can ever hope to achieve, IPC works to promote rational and better coordinated private sector food technology and standards.

Related Publications and Events

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