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Abstract

A number of major agricultural exporting countries responded to high food prices from 2007 to 2011 by imposing export restrictions on agricultural commodities in efforts to constrain domestic food price inflation. These restrictions reduced the volume of internationally traded food and exacerbated international price spikes. Net food-importing countries were faced with growing import bills, and non-governmental organisations that target food security scaled-back programme commitments and appealed for increased funding. There have subsequently been a chorus of calls for the development of a formal international framework that could discipline the use of agricultural export restrictions; the agreements of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have been targeted as possible fora for such disciplines. We present a framework in which the efficacy of such disciplines can be analysed and conclude that constraints on agricultural export restrictions are not likely to be effective within the WTO's Dispute Settlement Understanding for two reasons. First, the timelines for dispute settlement in the WTO are too long to be useful in disputes about export restrictions during periods of high food prices. Second, the withdrawal of tariff concessions, or trade retaliation, that could be authorised in such cases would not be a credible response for many complainant countries.