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The Role of UN Agencies in Shaping Trade Rules and Food and Agriculture Policy-making at the WTO

Institutions
WTO
Trade
Matias Margulis
University of Stirling
Matias Margulis
University of Stirling

Abstract

The established literature on the internationalisation of the agricultural trade regime principally focuses on the relative bargaining power and capacity of states to set the policy agenda and make rules. This Paper further extends our understanding of who makes global agricultural trade rules and policy by looking at the role of international organizations – specifically, UN agencies. Even though UN agencies do not have a place at the formal negotiating table at the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is exclusive to states, I show that they have nonetheless developed distinctive capacities and practices that enabled them to directly affect negotiating outcomes. I show how, for example, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) actively organized and orchestrated a negotiating coalition of developing countries during the GATT Uruguay Round, which resulted in trade rules that were effectively ghost-written by the FAO becoming a key part of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. In another case, I uncover how the UN World Food Programme used what I term a “moral veto” to block agreement on proposed rules during the Doha Round, by launching an international media campaign vilifying trade negotiators as recklessly endangering the lives of hungry people in the Global South. The Paper draws on extensive field research, including over 85 interviews with senior international civil servants, trade representatives, and global civil society actors, participant observation at the WTO and UN agencies, and archival and documentary analysis. It covers the crucial period of multilateral trade negotiations in agriculture from 1986 to 2015.