The final panel discussion of the Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium discussed the relationship between trade and agriculture. Chaired by the former Executive Director of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ann Veneman, the panel addressed the potentials and challenges of trade and agriculture.
Veneman noted near the beginning of the discussion that agriculture is often a make-or-break issue in trade agreements, which was also emphasized by the other panelists. Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam, President of New England Complex Systems Institute, joked, “You don’t need me here to tell you it’s a complex world,” and highlighted research done showing the relationship between food prices and political and social unrest. The two critical factors in this relationship are the conversion of corn to ethanol in the U.S. and the impact of speculation on commodity markets.
Agriculture and free trade agreements also, however, provide an important platform for increased engagement and cooperation across borders, said Dr. Shadrack Ralekeno Moephuli, President and CEO of the Agricultural Research Council in South Africa. Dr. Moephuli noted, as have many other speakers and panelists at the symposium, that the unprecedented levels of exchange of information are having dramatic impacts on local and global trade. David C. Nelson, global strategist at Rabobank International , noted that social media is a new playing field for the exchange of information, and a means to recognize broader implications of actions.
Vice President of Rock Creek Global Advisors LLC, Michael Smart, highlighted the negative impacts of protectionist trade policies, especially those concerning agriculture. Smart said that developing countries are hurt the most by tariffs and trade barriers because they lose export opportunities. While Smart sees the benefits of regional and bilateral free trade agreements, they must “lead us back to Geneva and multilateral agreements.”
Dr. Bar-Yam voiced concern: “Decisions are mostly being made locally despite the global context in which we live.” Nelson raised the question, “What is in the best interest of the world?” Dr. Moephuli noted the need to invest in agro-processing and post-harvest systems as “more than 20 percent of agricultural produce is lost in post-harvest handling.” He continued on to state that long-term and consistent investment for innovation and technology development is critical in the developing world.