The rise of protectionism is prompting some developing countries that export agricultural produce to explore new ways of expanding their markets without being limited by lack of access.
Some global trade experts believe that if left unchecked, protectionism would not only obstruct international trade, but might also weaken the influence of the World Trade Organization. The issue is likely to be prominent at this year’s WTO ministerial conference and has implications for global food security and the development of the global agricultural sector.
At an International Food Policy Research Institute event called “Global food security and the WTO: The role of Mercosur countries,” Devex talked with Marcos Sawaya Jank, the vice president of corporate affairs and business development for Brazilian Food Processor BRF Asia Pacific. BRF is one of the world’s largest food production companies and Jank spoke about how the development community can support agricultural-product exporting countries to address the growing challenge of protectionism. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Could you elaborate on the ongoing evolution of agricultural protectionism?
Market access will probably be a complicated issue since the U.S. has decided to leave the Trans-Pacific Partnerships and is also re-thinking NAFTA, and challenging China. It could become a very complicated world regarding trade relations. I think we are going to see movement in bilateral agreement but not regional. The World Trade Organization will be complicated too. Countries that are very efficient in agriculture, such as Brazil and Argentina, depend on market access. Now they need to become very convincing to have multilateral liberalization of subsidies and tariffs.
Some experts believe a rise in protectionism is an opportunity for the private sector to increase its involvement in agricultural development. What are your thoughts on this?
The private sector is extremely involved, especially in Brazil, in increasing export, trade and investment. The company where I work is a very large Brazilian company, and we are now investing in Asia. If we don’t have market access and if we have barriers to export, what companies can decide to do is invest locally. But if you don’t have open markets you are not going to have the same efficiency. This is something to be discussed between importers and exporters. In agriculture, the main exporters are South American countries, and the main importers are the big Asian countries. If the U.S. now leaves TPP, there is space for countries such as Brazil and Argentina to discuss and enter a TPP eventually.
What is the most important step that the global development community can take to address this issue?
There is a challenge of having an agricultural agreement between countries. The big problem is that some countries resist including disciplined market and domestic support [in their policies]. But as the world becomes more mercantilist and we start to have retaliation, it will be very difficult to have any agreement at all. Even the WTO as an organization would begin to have problems. Then a lot of countries would be questioning its relevance and saying that “the WTO is not working at all, let us go with a bilateral agreement.” So I think agriculture should be included in the disciplines of the WTO because it is lagging behind.
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