Dialogue on trade and sustainability reveals potential maps for moving forward–and roadblocks

In July, Farm Foundation and our colleagues from the north at the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute hosted a Dialogue on Trade and Sustainability in Chicago. The two organizations convened a group of experts with diverse backgrounds from the academic, business, policy and producer segments to discuss the challenges in developing a greater understanding of how trade and sustainability are interconnected and are impacting the food and agricultural sectors in the United States and Canada.

The results gave the group hope for the future in the form of ideas and solutions, but also presented numerous challenges, with many unknowns. And lots of areas for further exploration and research. Some of the key take-aways include:

  • Free trade generally encourages production to locate where the use of resources is most efficient and sustainable.
  • Realistically, market failures from unpriced externalities, government intervention and a lack of key institutions ensuring secure land tenure and property rights, result in trade having ambiguous impacts on resources.
  • WTO global trade rules since the 1990s have been successful at increasing market access and global economic growth, but do not address environmental concerns.

Participants focused in three specific areas of discussion: The current status of global sustainability and agricultural trade, the implications of disruptions in agricultural trade flows, and the future of agricultural trade and sustainability. The dialogue was wide-ranging, reflecting the complexity of issues within sustainability and trade, as well as the global nature of the concerns. At the end of the day-long conversation, there were two points of consensus—sustainability is: (1) a global issue that may best be addressed with solutions that begin at the local level and (2) a complex issue that requires immediate attention but may take a long time to resolve.  View all the key points and some backgrounder information from the Dialogue.

We were very pleased to see that participants readily shared their unique perspectives and conversation was robust.  The Foundation was able to garner numerous ideas for potential forums, deeper dives and white papers.  We look forward to continuing to explore this topic with our friends at CAPI, with our Dialogue experts and with a broader audience of interested and impacted parties.

Author Megan Provost is vice president of policy and programs for Farm Foundation. She brings together stakeholders in the food and agriculture industries to engage in informed dialogue on timely food, agricultural and rural policy issues.

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