The crisis spawned by the global run-up in food prices provides an opportunity for a trade round that will actually accomplish some true poverty reduction, according to Nancy Birdsall and Arvind Subramanian of the Center for Global Development.
The contours of trade policies friendly to a New Deal on hunger are clear. Industrial countries should eliminate any practices that reduce global food supply, including all forms of subsidies to biofuels that compete with food production. Developing country food producers should eschew export restrictions. And importing countries can also contribute. To reassure developing country exporters about future access should prices become volatile or even decline, they could agree now to lock in their recent liberalization -- a plus for all agricultural exporters.
We also propose that in a New Deal on Hunger, major developing country producers set aside for now their reasonable objections to traditional rich country agricultural protection -- the bone of contention in the Doha trade round -- at least in the case of food staples (if not cotton and cocoa). Rich countries would ideally reduce this protection on their own (as their taxpayers might well like in the case of domestic production subsidies). But for a hunger deal now their long-perverse agricultural protection is not a central issue -- and leaving it aside has the political virtue of greasing the wheels of a global deal on hunger.
Finally, to address the concerns of the poorest food-importing countries that have been worst hit by food shortages requires immediate action. In addition to traditional emergency food aid, all food exporting countries -- the U.S., Brazil and other big beneficiaries of the current price hikes -- could commit a small proportion of their exports as food aid (or provide the cash equivalent), with this proportion increasing in line with any increase in world prices.
Since unilateral trade policies in this area have clear negative externalities--export taxes in food exporting countries and import liberalization in food-importing countries both raise world food prices--the case for some kind of international coordination is indeed quite strong.
But the most mischievous part of the Birdsall-Subramanian proposal is that they want Bob Zoellick to head the effort.
... Mr. Zoellick is ideally suited to the task. He should secure agreement that trade and development ministers will meet within a month to agree on the trade principles of a new hunger deal, aiming for a full-fledged agreement before the end of the year. Indeed his leadership on this issue, especially in eliminating U.S. protection of corn-based ethanol, would complete his transition from representing U.S. trade interests to the development needs of the world's poor.
A test case indeed.