CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA — Citing the inadequacy of past, centrally planned food security policies, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) President Alan Tracy on Dec. 5 proposed an initiative to provide “genuine food security to the world’s wheat importers” by fully liberalizing global wheat trade.

Tracy presented the concept of a global wheat food security initiative at the 25th Annual International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) Mideast & Africa Conference & Expo in Cape Town, South Africa. The conference continues through Dec. 6.

This is the Silver Jubilee Anniversary of the event, which features an all-encompassing conference program with speakers and industry experts. The event also features the first-ever Feed Milling Technology & Trends Seminar (FMTT) on Dec. 6.

“Wheat is the most important food grain in the world,” Tracy said. “It provides 20 percent of the calories consumed every day on earth and 20 percent of the protein for the poorest half of human population. Demand is growing, but not every country that consumes wheat can produce wheat. Thus, wheat is both the world's most planted grain and the most traded. Creating a government-to-government sectoral trade agreement, similar to the current initiative to achieve global free trade in environmental goods under the World Trade Organization (WTO), that eliminates trade barriers would assure importing countries of guaranteed access to the world's exportable wheat supplies.”

Tracy said real food security is possible when markets are allowed to work and governments invest to improve infrastructure that supports local production and improves access to world food supplies through trade. Policies that intervene in market dynamics, while implemented with good intentions, have only distorted trade and encouraged unsustainable investments.

Tracy noted that the call in 2011 by the G20 under the leadership of French President Sarkozy for internationally controlled emergency wheat stockpiles and other measures largely proved unworkable. He also criticized India’s food security demands that appeared to derail hopes for a WTO trade facilitation agreement in Bali, Indonesia, earlier this year.

"India's demand for an exemption from WTO subsidy rules was not really about food security," he said.

Admitting that such an initiative faces many challenges, Tracy said USW has shared the concept with some government trade officials and industry representatives who have expressed interest in discussing the idea in more depth.

“Given a fair chance, we can compete very well, because we produce the highest quality wheat in the world,” said Paul Penner, a Hillsboro, Kansas, U.S., wheat farmer and president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. “We agree that lower tariffs, less government intervention and freer global wheat trade would expand opportunity for farmers and their customers and we are eager to see how stakeholders respond to this idea.”

Tracy also asked flour millers at the IAOM meeting for their support within their own governments if the idea takes root.

“In exchange for eliminating tariffs, licenses and other trade barriers, the world’s wheat buyers would have guaranteed access to exportable wheat supplies even when world supplies are down,” Tracy said. “It also would encourage sound investment in wheat production and create a more level playing field on which exporting countries can compete. I believe, with your support, we can genuinely boost food security that is so critical to peace and justice in this growing world.”

USW is the industry’s export market development organization working in more than 100 countries. Its mission is to “develop, maintain, and expand international markets to enhance the profitability of U.S. wheat producers and their customers.” USW activities are made possible through producer checkoff dollars managed by 19 state wheat commissions and cost-share funding provided by The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service.