Tonga’s Inclusion in the WTO list of Net Food Import Developing Countries (NFIDC)

The Ministry of Trade and Economic Development in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forest completed the requirements to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for a request to be included in the WTO list of Net Food Import Developing Countries (NFIDC).

NFIDC is a list established by the WTO Committee on Agriculture. The list comprises of least-developed developing countries recognized by the UN Economic and Social Council plus the developing country WTO Members which notified their request to be listed and have submitted relevant statistical data concerning their status as net-importers of basic foodstuffs.

Highlights of considerations that may be accrued from listing as a NFIDC:

  • Recognized group that is accorded flexibility under the WTO rules. One of these include Article 12(a) Disciplines on Export Prohibitions and Restrictions of the Agreement of Agriculture. “The Member instituting the export prohibition or restriction shall give due consideration to the effects of such prohibition or restriction on importing Members’ food security”.
  • Given the size of Tonga’s economy and limited to no production of imported basic foodstuffs, we are heavily dependent on the importation of food to meet domestic consumption and food security. Basic foodstuffs that are largely imported include: rice, sugar, flour, dairy products (milk, butter, and cheese), cooking oil, apples, pasta, and meat products (beef, lamb/mutton, pork and chicken meat).
  • The COVID-19 pandemic, the War between Russia and Ukraine and natural disasters amongst other crises has exposed the vulnerability of food import dependent countries such as Tonga who source from other WTO Members that have imposed export restrictions to safeguard their own supplies of food.
  • Any benefits arising of any Ministerial decisions for NFIDC will only be conferred upon those countries listed. As an example, the 12th Ministerial Conference Decision made the following decisions regarding NFIDC under the Food Security agenda:
    • paras 8 – establishment of a dedicated Work program in WTO to make the decision on LDCs and NFIDCs. In addition, the WP should respond to the needs of LDCs and NFIDCs to increase their resilience in responding to acute food instability including the use of flexibilities to bolster their agricultural production and enhance their domestic food security as needed in an emergency.
    • para 9 – recognising the need for technical and financial assistance to LDCs and NFIDCs from multilateral and regional financial institutions for improving their agricultural productive capacity, infrastructure and access to agricultural inputs.

According to advise from the Permanent Delegation of the Pacific Islands Forum to the WTO Office in Geneva, since MC12, there is intense discussion in the WTO Committee on Agriculture to focus on NFIDCs and in mainly linking the issues in para 8 and para 9. What is important to note is that, the WTO is not a financial institution and will not give out money but it does recognise that the NFIDCs are always vulnerable to external food shocks whether price or supply shocks. Therefore what it can do is lay out the trade rules that do not disadvantage NFIDCs from accessing food supply at affordable prices and provide flexibility to use policies to develop food security needs (para 8), and that on the basis of these needs, the technical and financial from multilateral and regional financial institutions assistance play an important role. The office further advised, what is at stake is that if an outcome is adopted at MC13 and Tonga is not in the list of NFIDCs then Tonga cannot make use of the flexibilities.  So being on the list will cushion Tonga’s position to use NFIDC provisions that may be adopted in the future.

The Ministry tabled this request in the first meeting of the National Trade Facilitation and Policy Committee (NTFPC) held on the 20th February 2023, and members agreed to the request made and for the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development to seek Cabinet’s approval. Thus, data were collected from Customs, Agriculture and Toloa Farming to complete the required data from the WTO. A paper was submitted to Cabinet on the 10th March 2023 and was approved by Ministers to proceed with the request to the WTO to be included in the NFIDC list.

Tonga’s request was then hosted on the agenda of the March WTO Committee on Agriculture meeting which was on the 28th March 2023. The introduction of Tonga’s request was delivered by Her Excellency Hon. Titilupe Fanetupouvava’u Tu’ivakano, High Commissioner, High Commission for Tonga, London. The Committee approved Tonga’s request to be added to the list of NFIDCs.

The link WTO | 2023 News items – Members maintain focus on food security, discuss farm policies, transparency highlights the result of the Committee on Agriculture also mentioning Tonga’s inclusion in the NFIDC list.

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