The G20 Leader’s Summit wrapped up in Bali last week, signalling the end of Indonesia’s chairing of the intergovernmental forum.

As is customary, the summit ended with a leader’s declaration, which is steered by the chair. And it was clear that food and food security are a key priority, dominating the declaration.

Two of the first actions the G20 has nominated are to:

“Promote food and energy security and support stability of markets, providing temporary and targeted support to cushion the impact of price increases, strengthening dialogue between producers and consumers, and increasing trade and investments for long-term food and energy security needs, resilient and sustainable food, fertilizer and energy systems.”

Recommit to accelerate achievement of the SDGs, achieving prosperity for all through sustainable development.”

In addition, the declaration made commitments to protecting vulnerable populations from food prices rises, and coordinate action on shortages. But the next point made is critical:

“We reiterate our support for open, transparent, inclusive, predictable, and non-discriminatory, rules-based agricultural trade based on WTO rules. We highlight the importance of enhancing market predictability, minimizing distortions, increasing business confidence, and allowing agriculture and food trade to flow smoothly.”

The sentiments expressed in the communique were precisely those that drove the Sustainable Vegetable Oil conference at the beginning of November, with an emphasis on food security, international cooperation and moves against protectionism. 

Similarly, they also hark back to the meeting of G20 trade ministers in September, which assembled a list of principles for using trade to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. The first principle was simple:

“Trade has a significant role as an engine for economic growth, sustainable poverty reduction and development. Keeping markets open and resisting trade protectionism in all its forms is essential in this regard, as well as ensuring that trade’s benefits are equitably spread among the population.”

Indonesia has led on using open trade to work against poverty. The question is whether its biggest trading partners – specifically the EU – can follow suit. The EU has puts its name alongside Indonesia in the communique. But in the case of palm oil, is it all just talk?

Last week just as the G20 leaders were meeting, Polish MEP Ryszard Czenecki called out the EU for its protectionist approach and that it was undermining its relationships with many countries, particularly emerging economies. He stated:

“In September, fourteen developing countries – led by G20 members Brazil and Indonesia – signed a complaint to the Commission about discrimination in the Deforestation Regulation. The regulation is classic Green protectionism: it erects bureaucratic trade barriers that will undermine the economic development of our trading partners, in order to coddle some rent-seeking European industries.”

At the same time, German MEP Lars Patrick Berg criticised the EU’s approach inability to prioritise economic growth:

“Our policymaking is actively harming the progress towards this goal. Protectionist EU regulations, pushed primarily by domestic lobby groups and NGOs in an effort to restrict businesses and free markets, have emerged as one of the biggest barriers to growth.”

“Commissioners travel the world lecturing countries like Indonesia about the importance of global rules (e.g. WTO) and the importance of sustainable energy (e.g. using waste products) – and then MEPs propose to rip up WTO commitments and introduce trade discrimination against sustainable fuels. This will do nothing to help the global energy transition, and will sow distrust amongst our allies.”

Even EU policymakers are beginning to understand that their own institutions can often work against the global consensus on trade and sustainable development.