Reforming the International Legal Regime for Food Aid

32 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2010 Last revised: 20 Apr 2015

See all articles by Hilton Zunckel

Hilton Zunckel

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: June 15, 2010


A staggering 65% of global food aid is taken up in Southern Africa. It is thus critically important to address the impacts of this aid on African farmers through the forums available under international treaties and organisations – the Food Aid Convention, the FAO Consultative Sub-committee on Surplus Disposal and the WTO.

Historically the availability of food aid is high when there have been good harvests and low prices. In contrast, food aid is low when prices are high, which critically compromises the compensating role of food aid in times of food shortages.

In the international architecture of food aid, the Food Aid Convention (FAC) is arguably the primary international instrument. While it is generally a legally well constructed and structurally sound treaty to administer international food aid, the exclusion of food aid recipient countries from the treaty and some lack of transparency require attention.

In the FAO the Consultative Sub-Committee on Surplus Disposal looks to ensure that agricultural commodities which are exported on concessionary terms result in additional consumption for the recipient country and do not displace normal commercial imports. Africans are present here although their inputs seem low. In addition is there is a valid role for the CSSD as the notion of ‘surplus disposal’ and food aid is out of vogue?

The most interesting activity on food aid internationally is within the realm of the WTO where Africa has been successful in influencing the agenda. In taking the issue forward from the current position to the future Doha deal, there is consensus among WTO Members that the WTO shall not stand in the way of the provision of genuine food aid, but linkages to the FAC have been lost.

The policy response on food aid should focus on making the international legal architecture more friendly and participative for recipient countries in four ways: 1. Pursue the reform of the Food Aid Convention to engineer the emergence of a mechanism for food aid recipient countries to make their voices heard under the Convention. 2. Africa must take a more active role in forums where it does currently have access, like the FAO’s Consultative Sub-Committee on Surplus Disposal. 3. Africa needs to guard the textual progress to which it has successfully contributed as reflected in the current WTO draft modalities text. 4. Question why the current WTO draft modalities text breaks the existing linkage between the WTO and the Food Aid Convention that is present in the Agreement on Agriculture.

Keywords: International Food Aid, International Food Aid Convention, Food Aid Committee, FAC, FAO-CSSD, NEPAD, Africa, Poverty, Hunger, International Grains Agreement

JEL Classification: F02, F10, F14, F35, Q17, Q18, Q13

Suggested Citation

Zunckel, Hilton, Reforming the International Legal Regime for Food Aid (June 15, 2010). Society of International Economic Law (SIEL), Second Biennial Global Conference, University of Barcelona, July 8-10, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Hilton Zunckel (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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