News digest: Policy


New Director-General of World Trade Organization

Nigerian Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO, took office on 1 March (WTO News, 5 March). Among her first actions were meetings with the Group of Least Developed Countries as well as the Friends of the System, an alliance of small and mid-sized members from different regions and development levels that are committed to a well-functioning multilateral trading system. A top priority will be to continue her meetings with individual ambassadors and groups, including the African Group, the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific states, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

UNCTAD calls for linking trade policy and the right to food

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has released a policy brief that calls for the effective implementation and reform of World Trade Organization (WTO) provisions to promote the right to food (IISD, 1 March). The brief, titled ‘Towards a New Trade Agenda for the Right to Food’, calls on WTO members to address four unresolved topics relating to the implementation of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture: export restrictions; support for resource-poor agricultural producers; public stockholding; and financial and technical support to agricultural production from development partners.

United Nations Food Systems Summit – how to incentivize food loss and waste reduction?

The 2021 UN Food Systems Summit on “How to Incentivize Food Loss and Waste Reduction?” took place on 12 March, focusing on bold new actions to transform the way the world produces and consumes food, delivering progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In an opinion piece (Devex, 9 February), UN Special Envoy Agnes Kalibata discusses how food systems can be transformed by sharing platforms, ideas and learning on a global level. “There is no single group responsible for transforming food systems to be more inclusive, nutritious, sustainable, and resilient. The responsibility for a functioning food system is shared between public and private sectors, companies and consumers, authorities and individuals, which is why it can only be transformed by sharing platforms, ideas, and learnings on a global level like never before.”

IFAD sets record in replenishment fundraising

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has mobilised $3.8 billion in its 12th replenishment, a new record for the United Nations fund (Devex, 18 February). The funding will allow IFAD to reach approximately 140 million people in fragile and remote areas over three years. IFAD said at least 40% of the funds will be invested to address climate change. Globally, rural people bear the brunt of the impact of irregular rainfall patterns and natural disasters that disrupt agricultural activity, despite contributing the least to climate change. More than half of the funding will go toward rural development projects in sub-Saharan Africa, while more than a quarter will go to fragile countries or those involved in conflict.

IFPRI: Food systems lessons from Covid-19

Impacts of the pandemic on our global food system have affected the food security and nutritional wellbeing of millions of people worldwide, with market closures, supply disruptions, and income and employment losses. Understanding the extent and nature of these impacts will be critical to building resilience to future shocks. An seminar organised by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on 2 March presented results from the first global assessment of the impacts of Covid-19 on food systems, examining points of vulnerability and resilience, who suffered and who benefitted, and how lockdowns and other policies shaped outcomes. View the video here.

UNCTAD: Digital e-commerce rules could negatively impact developing countries

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has released a research paper that shares progress on negotiations on digital rules under the Joint Statement Initiative on electronic commerce (IISD, 22 February). The paper cautions that many of the key digital rules being negotiated have high costs of compliance and could adversely impact trade competitiveness of developing countries in the digital economy.


Overcoming obstacles to traditional African vegetable production

The Power on your Plate summit recently took place in Arusha, Tanzania (CABI blog post, 11 March). This important pan-African event explored the role of traditional African vegetables in diversifying and strengthening food systems, reducing poverty, energising industry and improving health and incomes. Contributors considered ways in which obstacles can be overcome to boost traditional African vegetables in the food chain.

Africa’s evolving vegetable seed sector

An article in the journal Food Security (3 March) argues that the vegetable seed sector in sub-Saharan Africa has been slow to develop and has received little attention in the development agenda. The paper draws from Asia’s experience to outline a four-point strategy to accelerate the vegetable seed sector in the region: strengthen the technical capacity of African seed companies to allow them to develop well-adapted varieties; review and revise seed regulations, originally designed with food grains in mind; improve extension to exploit improved varieties and good management practices; strengthen vegetable marketing systems to reduce risks to farmers and traders.

Africa Forum calls for a New Deal for Development

The 20th International Economic Forum on Africa, organised by the African Union (AU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and titled “Investing for a sustainable recovery in Africa”, concluded that “The time has come for a ‘New Deal for Development’: in the face of this huge global shock, only coordinated action at the continental and global level will enable us to reduce the vulnerabilities of our economies” (Commodafrica, 23 February).

East Africa: Over 32 million people are food insecure

In its latest assessment, the East and Central Africa Food Security and Nutrition Working Group estimates that 32.3 million people were food insecure and in need of emergency assistance in January 2021, an estimate that has increased slightly (De l’autre côté de l’Afrique, 1 March). Immediate support is needed in South Sudan, and the humanitarian situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia is still of concern.

Benin: Thousands of businesses to benefit from partnership between EIB and Vital Finance Benin

The European Investment Bank (EIB)’s first ever loan to Vital Finance Benin will promote investment by small businesses and support thousands of jobs in Benin, bridging the “missing link” between microfinance institutions and banks (EIB news release, 8 March). 77,000 loans, local currency financing and longer-term investments will be made available, and women are expected to represent 70% of the final beneficiaries. This is the first partnership in Benin under the EIB’s €50 million microfinance programme for West Africa.

Congo: EIB support for digital transformation and private sector investment

Three new agreements between the European Investment Bank, the Republic of Congo, the Banque de Développement des Etats de l’Afrique Centrale and Société Générale Congo aim to create jobs, strengthen economic growth and develop the private sector, and ensure that businesses are able to meet the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic (EIB, 3 March).

Mauritius: JICA finances post-Covid-19 recovery

On 24 February the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) signed a loan agreement of 30 billion yen (€234 million) in favour of Mauritius to support its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure the living conditions of the Mauritian population and to reinforce the resilience of its economy (De l’autre côté de l’Afrique, 1 March).


EU Industry Week 2021

EU Industry Week 2021

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) organised three events during EU Industry Week 2021. The first multi-stakeholder dialogue highlighted the long-standing cooperation between UNIDO, the EU and the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), with an emphasis on investment and technology promotion initiatives for the increased competitiveness of developing countries.

Building resilience to Covid-19: Next steps for the EU-AU digital partnership

A post by the European Think Tanks Group (19 February) suggests how the African Union and the European Union can work together to develop digital infrastructure in Africa and support digitalisation in key areas such as e-commerce logistics and agriculture. The Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the digital economy globally, with an estimated 30% increase in internet traffic in 2020. Countries with higher internet penetration in 2019 were able to impose stricter policies to curtail the spread of the virus. Education technology and health technology have emerged as important digital solutions to manage the effects of the crisis. However, the global digital divide is quite stark: in 2019 82.5% of Europeans had access to the internet, compared with only 28.2% of Africans.


EU Trade Strategy supports climate neutrality

The European Commission has set out a new trade policy strategy for the EU (IISD, 3 March). The European Commission will focus on six areas: reform the WTO; support the green transition and promote responsible and sustainable value chains; support the digital transition and trade in services; strengthen the EU’s regulatory impact; strengthen the EU’s partnerships with neighbouring, enlargement countries and Africa; strengthen the EU’s focus on implementation and enforcement of trade agreements; and ensure a level playing field. The strategy states that “combatting climate change and environmental degradation is the EU’s top priority”.

EU initiatives for International Year of Fruits and Vegetables

The United Nations International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021 is a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the important role of fruit and vegetables in food security and human health, as worldwide consumption levels remain low (European Parliamentary Research Service, March). Several European Union initiatives aim at boosting consumption of fruit and vegetables and strengthening sector operators. The European Parliament has contributed to finding solution to the issues identified in the functioning of the EU fruit and vegetable market, including playing a key role in the negotiations on the Directive on unfair trading practices.

Understanding EU financing for external action

With the adoption of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021–27, the European Union has ensured the means and tools for achieving its external action objectives over this period. A paper published by the European Parliamentary Research Service examines how the EU financed its external activity in the 2014–2020 MFF, how it has adapted its approach, and the main trends for the future financing of EU external action.


Webinar: EU-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement

A webinar focusing on the EU-CARIFORUM EPA: “Enhancing reciprocal trade and deepening regional integration – how to unlock the trade potential behind the EPA” took place on 11 March. The EU-CARIFORUM EPA entered into force in December 2008. This webinar examined the main findings of the second ex-post evaluation study commissioned by the EU, and its recommendations.


Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat–ITC Symposium

H.E. Mr Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti, Secretary-General of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), presented a video message at the opening of the Joint Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat–International Trade Centre Symposium on Trade Finance. He stated that “OACPS is working towards an international trade order that guarantees just treatment of all members while providing a level playing field for SIDS [small island developing states] and landlocked countries” (OACPS News, 10 March). The message highlighted the importance of the private sector as a main development actor. With the theme “Improving and Strengthening Private Sector Access to Finance for Trade”, the Joint PIFS-ITC Symposium on Trade Finance takes place from 10-11 March in Suva, Fiji.

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