Food aid, under the guidance of WTO rules, is urgently needed. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 35 countries currently face food shortages, the highest toll since 1984 when a severe drought hit sub-Saharan Africa. The number of people facing food shortages of varying intensity is estimated at 52 million.
The world's ability to fight food crises has increased since the 1980s. Early warning technology in slow emerging disasters, such as droughts, has improved and information dissemination is more rapid. But the food aid situation remains fragile, according to FAO, reflecting less country donations and possibly donor complacency, particularly for protracted food emergencies.
The United States has provided substantial levels of food aid over the years and in particular since the passage of the "Food for Peace Act" in 1954. Although the level of U.S. 1999 food aid is a recent high, it is below amounts donated by the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s.
Food assistance is exempt from WTO rules disciplining government support for agriculture as long as steps are taken to minimize the potential impact on commercial sales. Recent food aid provided by the U.S., which assists countries that are establishing new market economies or helps to meet emergency food needs, is fully consistent with the current WTO safeguards.
Clearly, the United States should pledge to continue -- and even increase -- food aid.