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FAO Secretary General Elections – Part 2: What is to be Done?

Published on May 7, 2019        Author: 

In this second post, I want to provide some more details about how the budget works within the FAO. My purpose is to highlight how the majority of Member nations wield political power, while top donors wield financial power.

Today, to win the FAO, is to gain the authority to define the right to food and to significantly influence, if not determine, the right to food’s ability to change the world food regime. Lately, however, the FAO has not invested enough into the right to food for it to even appear as a line item in its budget. Instead, it is buried in a way that is difficult for the public to determine how much is actually spent on the right to food.

The FAO broke new ground in 2004 with the publication of the Right to Food Guidelines. But the work seems to have stopped there. If the right to food is not constantly contested, redefined and operationalized as the world changes, it loses its relevance. In the last two decades, the right to food was re-empowered as a political tool wielded from below by the transnational peasant movements, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, pastoralists, and others who overcame their differences to form the food sovereignty movement. But in important spaces such as Committee on World Food Security it remains unclear what role the right to food will play in world’s future food regime. If the FAO continues to disinvest from the right to food, this tool will be blunted from above.

With these normative stakes in mind, I think the political question surrounding the FAO should be: what would a right-to-food budget look like? More specifically: how can the world’s most food insecure have more control over the FAO’s budget? Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: United Nations
 
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FAO Secretary General Elections – Part 1: What is at Stake?

Published on May 6, 2019        Author: 

The FAO Member Nations are set to elect a new Director General this 22-29 June. The four candidates, nominated by UN Member States, are Qu Dongyu (China), Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle (France), Davit Kirvalidze (Georgia), and Ramesh Chand (India). Social movements, Indigenous peoples, and NGOs are frustrated because they do not have an opportunity to directly interact with the candidates and engage in a conversation about expectations and plans. They have started a campaign around the hashtag #AskFAO to encourage people from around the world to publicly engage in the process. The implicit purpose is to put pressure on the FAO to make the Secretary General more accountable to the people they serve.

Since the 1990s, a very popular way to engage in questions of democracy and international institutions has been through the language of legitimacy. In these terms, political questions become something you measure as a matter of normative theory, sociological fact, or political reality. This emphasis on measuring makes legitimacy a passive idea. Even when people attack international institutions for being illegitimate or defend it as legitimate, this is still a muddled politics. These argument are often opaque because they rely on a principle that remains implicit and avoids debating the stakes in clearer terms such as power, status, and wealth (but here is a wonderful exception to that generalization).

I want to instead rely on the language of authority and treat the FAO as something someone may want to politically win in order to wield power. In this post I examine what is at stake in the Secretary General elections. In my second blog post I touch upon what is to be done more as an introductory outline than a detailed plan.

My thinking is informed by a very basic notion of fairness: the more vulnerable you are, the more you should be politically empowered. An exemplary Secretary General has to figure out how the FAO can empower all people living with hunger, famine, and starvation. Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: United Nations
 
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Life Without the WTO – Part II: Looking to the Everyday

Published on April 26, 2019        Author: 

Editors’ Note: This is the second post of a two part series by EJIL:Talk Contributing Editor Michael Fakhri. Part I can be found here.

In this second post I want to provide two examples of how life might look like without the WTO. One could do this in a myriad of ways and my purpose is to encourage more thinking along these terms and not to define that debate (well, not yet at least). Let’s see what the world looks like when we highlight the everyday practices of procuring food and doing business:

If a central tenet of the WTO is trade liberalization, the Agreement of Agriculture has always been a failure no matter what your definition of liberalization is. Developing countries had, either through the coercion of IMF structural adjustment programs or unilaterally with the aid of World Bank programs, already implemented a small revolution and liberalized their agricultural sectors before 1994. By the late 1980s, they were export-oriented and did little to protect (i.e. support) domestic agricultural production. So, developing countries did not need the WTO to liberalize their agricultural markets.

Instead, the Agreement of Agriculture, took what was an exception under GATT, and turned it into the norm through things like the Green Box (defined in Annex 2 of the Agriculture Agreement). The most popular way that rich countries made exceptions within GATT for their agricultural policy was under GATT Article XII which allowed for quantitative restrictions to be temporarily employed in order to avoid a fiscal crisis caused by a serious balance of payment deficit. In 1955, this temporary exception became the permanent rule when a very generous waiver was granted to the US (BISD 3S/34-5) and a more conditional ‘Hard Core Waiver’ (BISD 3S/39) for the rest of the world but which primarily favored the then EEC. The result was that the GATT now granted countries permission to impose quantitative restrictions for trade in agriculture. The waivers became the rule and were in effect until 1994. With the WTO’s Agreement of Agriculture, the world’s largest markets continued to be closed off to developing countries. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Life Without the WTO – Part I: Stop all this Crisis-Talk

Published on April 25, 2019        Author: 

Editors’ Note: This is the first part of two posts by EJIL:Talk! Contributing Editor Michael Fakhri.

We hear a lot today about the WTO being in crisis. Some people have focused on institutional changes are imagining life without the DSU if it is not reformed. Others are proposing that the WTO consider life without the US. I think, however, we’re at a moment when it’s worth imagining life without the WTO (or at least radically reimagining the WTO). It is actually not too difficult a task if you look at one place the WTO should not have gotten into in the first place – agriculture – and one place where people conduct cross-border business and the WTO is nowhere in sight – the informal economy. I’ll address those in my second blog post.

But first, all this new talk of a WTO crisis is overblown. The WTO was born into a crisis. In light of the Marrakesh Agreement’s 25th birthday this month, it is worth recounting some living memory surrounding the WTO. In the final years of the Uruguay round, farmers in India argued with each other in the streets and in the newspapers over whether they would benefit from a freer market. Environmentalists around the world re-energized their protest efforts having learned some lessons in trade law from the GATT Tuna-Dolphin cases. And labor unions worried about a regulatory race to the bottom. The food sovereignty movement was galvanized by the advent of the WTO and continues strong to this day. Read the rest of this entry…