Enhancing agricultural sustainability via trade policy

Tuesday, Feb 13, 2024

Are trade policy and agricultural sustainability on a collision course? Or can new forms of trade policy enhance global sustainability by directing local priorities?

Achieving sustainability in global agri-food systems is an increasingly urgent issue, yet sustainability cannot be approached with a one-size-fits-all mindset. The growing prevalence of sustainability measures by countries worldwide could lead to unintended consequences for agricultural trade, productivity, and profitability, as well as for rural communities, and the climate.

A new report from the Global Forum on Farm Policy & Innovation (GFFPI) identifies challenges and areas of opportunity in ways trade and agricultural sustainability can work together. Entitled Advancing the Role of Trade and Agricultural Sustainability, the report is based on the inaugural public-private workshop led by GFFPI in October 2023 at the OECD, with the support of Australia, the Netherlands and Japan.

You can read and download the full report below or you can click here to download a pdf.

The workshop brought together representatives from the OECD Member States and Secretariat, the agri-food industry, thought leaders and subject matter experts from across Europe, North America, Japan and Australia late last year to unpack the role of trade in enhancing agricultural sustainability.

More than 80 participants engaged in dynamic discussions on actionable solutions, including creating a global platform for knowledge exchange, integrating an outcomes-based approach in trade policy, and developing shared indicators to measure progress. The workshop also emphasized the importance of data and transparency and the need for collaboration between governments and the private sector globally.

Key points identified in the report include:
• Enhancing food systems and trade through outcomes-based approaches to sustainability,
• Intensifying global cooperation in support of coherent policies and a global framework for sustainable agriculture,
• Optimizing trade to make agriculture sustainable and profitable, and
• Harnessing data and technology to transform the way we grow and trade food.

GFFPI representatives were impressed by the depth of insight and analysis workshop attendees brought to the topic.
“While trade agreements cannot dictate national policy choices, they can help achieve national objectives while respecting local perspectives,” said Tyler McCann, Managing Director of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute. “There was a strong sentiment in the room that outcomes-based approaches encourage innovation, while prescriptive, unilateral ones can hinder progress and stymie market access.”

With their sentiments captured in the post-event report, participants highlighted the need at an international level to ensure that trade is based on a shared vision and understanding of comprehensive sustainable food systems.

Global standards and guidelines can provide the means by which countries improve sustainability in a way that avoids trade distortions and protectionism, said Katie McRobert, General Manager of the Australian Farm Institute. “There was strong support at the workshop to reach consistency on those shared sustainability values which will help us work cooperatively on better outcomes for agri-food systems around the world,” Ms. McRobert said.

Mark Titterington, Co-Founder and Director of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture, said there are two ways to think about sustainability and trade: how can trade support sustainable agriculture; and how can policies aimed at sustainability facilitate trade? “With farm incomes being squeezed and farmers and land managers being impacted by the effects of a changing climate and the loss of biodiversity, we increasingly need to think and act in favour of systemic change to build a more resilient, sustainable, and climate smart agri-food system. Trade is a key dimension of this, and we must ask how we ensure that trade policy can act as a driver of agriculture sustainability. This first workshop provoked a number of key insights and takeaways, as well as identifying questions for further exploration, and we were delighted to have worked with our global partners to orchestrate a unique discussion on this topic with such a diverse range of stakeholders”.

Shari Rogge-Fidler, CEO of Farm Foundation said farmers and ranchers play a critical role in sustainability and climate solutions. “We need to ensure that the policy environment enables rather than overly burdens them in this role and that we have trade policies for market support,” Ms Rogge-Fidler said.

This workshop was the first of a series of events planned for 2024 and beyond to foster ideas and bring about convergence on a path forward.

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