Rules governing international trade of food and agricultural products should be crafted with an eye to improving countries’ food security and other development objectives. For this, a pragmatic approach that would align agricultural and trade policies at the national level is needed, a new FAO report argues.
The expected increase in global trade of farm products along with shifting patterns of trade and multiples sources of risks to global supplies will give trade and its governance a heightened influence over the extent and nature of food security everywhere. As a result, the challenge for policy makers has evolved into one of ensuring that its expansion “works for, and not against, the elimination of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition,” according to The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets (SOCO).
The new edition of this flagship FAO report aims to reduce the current polarization of views on agricultural trade, wherein some insist that free trade leads to more available and accessible food while others, noting the recent bout of volatile food prices, insist on the need for a more cautious approach to trade, including a variety of safeguards for developing countries.
Subtitled “Achieving a better balance between national priorities and the collective good,” the SOCO report emphasizes that the role of trade varies enormously with country characteristics, such as income, economic and landholding structure, the stage of agricultural development and the degree of integration of farmers in global value chains. Amid such variety in country conditions, international rules for formulating national trade policies should be supportive of efforts to mitigate disruptions that affect any of the four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilization and stability.
Balancing short-run and long-run objectives is becoming vitally important considering that the nature of disruptions varies enormously and that market shocks will likely become more frequent due to geopolitical, weather and policy-induced uncertainties. While efforts to intervene and shield domestic markets from global price volatility could in fact lead to increased domestic price volatility, agricultural incentives play an important role in boosting agricultural production and efficiency and fostering broader economic growth.
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