The Public Forum is the World Trade Organization’s largest annual outreach event.
It provides a unique platform for heads of states, parliamentarians, leading global business people, students, academics and non-governmental organizations to come together and debate on a wide range of WTO issues and on some of the major trade and development topics of the day.
Over 1,500 participants attend the Forum each year.
The main theme of this year WTO Public Forum was “Trade 2030”, with a focus on sustainable trade, technology-enabled trade, and a more inclusive trading system.
The event, that took place from October 2nd to 4th in Geneva, included numerous panels and roundtables, among which the working session hosted by the WFO Member Organizations Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA-FCA), National Farmers Union – US (NFU), Swiss Farmers’ Union (SBV), Young Farmers’ Federation of Uganda (UNYFA) and Norwegian Farmers’ Union (NFU).
The working session, moderated by Mr. Dave Velde, WFO Vice President and US-NFU General Counsel, took place on October 3rd and was very well attended.
Among the questions were: How will the SDGs work within the context of WTO agreements and current negotiating objectives? Can increased trade play a role in making agriculture more sustainable? If so, how should trade rules be designed to contribute to a more sustainable global agricultural sector?
Dr Elisabeth Burgi Bonanomi from the University of Berne, Switzerland, stated that the food systems of the global North and the global South are interdependent and often complementary. Transforming them into sustainable food systems thus requires a joint effort. Of particular importance is how trade relations are shaped between partner countries. The current trade regime leaves some policy space to shape agricultural trade in a more sustainable way, i.e. by privileging sustainably produced food (see the “fair food” concept as enshrined in the Swiss Constitution). If done in a non-discriminatory and context adapted way, the fair food concept bears potential to advance the SDG Agenda by enabling sustainable food systems to gain momentum all over the world.
Bjørn Gimming, Vice President of the Norwegian Farmers` Union, focused on the need for trade rules not undermining domestic food production. Climate change challenges food production in many areas. This makes food production more vulnerable and keeping up production in all parts of the world and all regions of a country becomes even more crucial. The WTO rules must allow for this local production for national consumers to continue.
Denis Kabiito, UNYFA’s CEO and facilitator for the WFO Youth Committee, stated that trade can contribute to the alleviation of poverty and hunger in food systems, but we need to see farmers more on the negotiation table in global value chains. Trade can act as a catalyst for growth of farms and farmers livelihoods. Youth can only join the field if it makes meaningful earnings. Small holders are not so much concerned with Production and Processing Methods since in their world it is not about the production and processing methods used to obtain food it's about having a meal and fight food insecurity. The threat for survival disregards the rest in most cases. Sustainability of food systems should not only focus on social and environmental aspects many consumers and other players crave for, but the survival of the producers economically is also important in having sustainable productions.
President Bruno Letendre of Quebec Dairy Farmers (Canada) presented how the sustainability of Canada’s dairy industry is built on the supply management system and on the mandatory quality assurance program proAction®. The supply management system ensures a balance between production and environmental capacity, resulting in stable and fair revenue for farmers while guaranteeing consumers a constant supply of high-quality milk at a fair price. The system also promotes economic development by ensuring dairy farms are viable in rural communities. The Canadian dairy market is not closed, but each additional opening through trade deals jeopardizes its sustainability. Trade agreements must, therefore, maintain the tools that allow practising supply management.
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