UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Resilient global food security and the World Trade Organization : an assessment of adaptive governance Murphy, Sophia M.E.


In 2007, a prolonged period of high and volatile prices in international agricultural commodity markets began what came to be known as the global food price crisis. The effects of the crisis were material and immediate; they included widespread riots and a sharp rise in hunger. The multilateral system responded swiftly, provoking a transformation of the global food security agenda and its institutions. Yet one organization whose rules were central to the crisis—the World Trade Organization (WTO)—hardly responded at all. The WTO was widely seen as an effective institution, enjoying strong support from its membership, who were the same governments initiating transformative change in other governance institutions. Why, then, did the WTO fail to respond? Could it have done better? This thesis looks for answers in the strained history of international trade and global food security and the role of the WTO in governing their relationship in the period 1995-2015. The WTO’s role has been controversial since the organization was founded. This thesis argues that both sides of the controversy make important points: although global food security depends on trade, trade is poorly served by the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. Using evidence drawn from documentary analysis, history, ethnographic observations and 59 in-depth expert interviews, the thesis is an interdisciplinary study that introduces and applies a novel analytical framework called resilient global food security. The framework builds on existing definitions of food security with the addition of three new dimensions: consonance of policy across scales; democratic accountability beyond borders; and capacity for adaptive governance and reflexive learning. The thesis finds that the WTO has failed to support resilient global food security, but argues the failure is neither inevitable nor definitive. To change, WTO members will need to redefine the role of trade agreements in the global governance of food security.

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