Are WTO obligations compatible with the right to food worldwide?

In this paper, it is discussed that the negative impact that WTO obligations have on the right to food is not inevitable. In principle, WTO and human rights obligations are not incompatible. Nonetheless, trade differs from human rights in that it focuses on averages and aggregates, while the latter concerns individuals. It can thus well be said that "at the level of abstract objectives, the liberalization of trade of agriculture and the right to food are complementary and international trade can even support the realization of the right. Yet, conflicts and tensions may arise at [the] implementation level." To avoid such conflicts, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, in his report of his mission to the WTO propounded an approach to international trade based on the right to food. In his view, trade liberalization in agriculture should aim to enhance the welfare of the most vulnerable and food insecure, such as, in particular, small-scale farmers. The protection of the right to food in the context of international trade is complicated by the presence of a multiplicity of non-state actors, in particular Transnational Corporations (TNCs) and international organizations - such as the WTO, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank - whose behavior directly or indirectly hampers the enjoyment of such a right. While efforts in recent times have focused on establishing criteria for holding these non-state actors accountable, this should not overshadow the responsibilities of states, which are still the main subjects of international law and the primary duty bearers under the international human rights regime. As far as TNCs are concerned, the obligation to protect the right to food requires host states to adopt measures to ensure that the former do not deprive individuals of their access to adequate food. States must comply with the obligations to protect, respect, and fulfil the right to food even in the context of international organizations such as the WTO. This means that states members should refrain from supporting any WTO measure or decision that could harm the enjoyment of the right to food. By virtue of their primacy, human rights should prevail over other international obligations. Nevertheless, the ostensible primacy of human rights obligations, in general, is not adequately supported by enforcement mechanisms, especially at the global level. This problem is particularly acute for economic and social rights whose justiciability is still rather weak, although improving. In contrast, violations of WTO trade rules are sanctioned by a judicial organ - the Dispute Settlement Body - and, as a last resort, by retaliatory measures adopted by the complainant party. As a consequence, in the case of a conflict between human rights and trade obligations, WTO members are obviously inclined to give preference to the latter. Moreover, the current stall in the Doha Round negotiations shows that only a radical change in the existing trade system, which seriously takes account of, inter alia, the food security needs of developing countries, could guarantee the attainment of the objectives - a fair agricultural trade market - and ultimately the survival of the system itself.