Explanation of Vote on a Third Committee Resolution on a Right to Food

Mordica Simpson
ECOSOC Advisor
United States
New York City
November 15, 2018


Thank you, Mr. Chair.

This Committee is meeting at a time when the international community is confronting one of the most serious food-security emergencies in modern history. Hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row, after a decade of progress. Over 35 million people in South Sudan, Somalia, the Lake Chad Basin, and Yemen are facing severe food insecurity, and in the case of Yemen, potential famine. The United States remains fully engaged and committed on addressing these conflict related crises.

This resolution rightfully acknowledges the hardships millions of people are facing, and importantly calls on states to support the United Nations’ emergency humanitarian appeal. However, the resolution also contains many unbalanced, inaccurate, and unwise provisions that the United States cannot support. This resolution does not articulate meaningful solutions for preventing hunger and malnutrition, or avoiding its devastating consequences.

Accordingly, we will call a vote and vote “no” on this resolution for the following reasons.

First, this resolution inappropriately discusses trade-related issues, which fall outside the subject matter and the expertise of this Committee. As stated on many occasions, the United States believes it is unacceptable for the UN to speak to the ongoing or future work of the World Trade Organization, to reinterpret WTO agreements and decisions, or to seek to shape WTO negotiations and its agenda. The WTO is an independent organization with a different membership, mandate, and rules of procedure. The language in this resolution in no way supersedes or otherwise undermines the WTO Nairobi Ministerial Declaration, which all WTO Members adopted by consensus and accurately reflects the current status of the issues in those negotiations. At the WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in 2015, WTO Members could not agree to reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda, DDA. As a result, WTO Members are no longer negotiating under the DDA framework. The resolution also inaccurately links trade negotiations at the WTO to the concept of a “right to food.”

The United States rejects the resolution’s suggestion that there is a tension between international trade agreements and the right to an adequate standard of living, including food. We cannot accept the UN opining on what WTO Members should do or consider in implementing a WTO agreement; the UN has no voice on these matters.

The United States is concerned that concept of “food sovereignty” could be used to justify protectionism or other restrictive import or export policies with negative consequences for food security, sustainability, and income growth. Improved access to local, regional, and global markets helps ensure food is available to the people who need it most and smooths price volatility. Food security depends on appropriate domestic action that is consistent with international commitments.

The climate change language in this resolution is without prejudice to U.S. positions. We affirm our support for promoting economic growth and improving energy security while protecting the environment.

The United States also does not support the resolution’s numerous calls for technology transfer that is not voluntary and on mutually agreed terms. Strong protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, including through the international rules-based intellectual property system, provide critical incentives needed to generate the innovation that is crucial to addressing the development challenges of today and tomorrow.

Furthermore, we reiterate that individual states hold the primary responsibility for implementing their human rights obligations. Regardless of external conditions, such as availability of technical assistance, all states must uphold this primary responsibility. We also do not accept any reading of this resolution or related documents that would suggest that states have particular extraterritorial obligations arising from any concept of a “right to food.”

The United States supports the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including food, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Domestically, the United States pursues policies that aim to provide adequate food access for all persons, but we do not treat the right to food as an enforceable obligation. The United States does not recognize any change in the current state of conventional or customary international law regarding rights related to food.

Moreover, we note that as the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights provides, each state party undertakes to take the steps set out in Article 2(1) “with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights.”

We interpret this resolution’s reaffirmation of previous documents, resolutions, and related human rights mechanisms as applicable to the extent countries affirmed them in the first place.

As for other references to previous documents, resolutions, and related human rights mechanisms, we reiterate any views we expressed upon their adoption.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.