This past weekend, the Agriculture Ministers of the G20 met to address issues facing the sector. According to a G20 press release, the meetings brought together representatives for 60 percent of the world’s farming land and almost 80 percent of global trade in food and agricultural commodities. These representatives powered through the rain, traveled to La Rural, and came out of it with an unanimous communique at the end of the sessions touting multilateralism. Timing could not have been more appropriate given the current political and economic context. Let’s get into it.
For the domestic agricultural context, it’s a mixed bag. Recent INDEC statistics showed that Argentina’s economic output contracted 5.8 percent compared to this month in 2017, directly pointing to the agriculture and fishing industries. Argentina has gone through the worst drought the country has faced in over 50 years. But according to recent JP Morgan forecasts, the agricultural sector is poised to recover in part to the coming wheat harvest. Other small victories include the recent OK to export Argentine beef – and dulce de leche – to Japan. Small victories, indeed.
Of course, it’s worth noting that the economic decisions the current US administration has made in the last several months have directly impacted the agricultural industry. Trump has made known his distaste for international trade and multilateral agreements in favor of #AmericaFirst protectionist measures, launching a trade war with China and threatening to walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement with neighbors Canada and Mexico.
The trade war with China has hurt the US farming industry deeply: the administration has recently offered an up to US $12 billion emergency loan program to balance Chinese tariffs. Earlier this week, the EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker met with Trump to talk him off the ledge of another trade war. The US administration claimed that the talks included negotiations on agricultural products, however EU representatives disputed that its sacred farming industry was involved.
So with that context in mind, we can take a look at this weekend. The objectives for the meetings were to “work collaboratively toward goals of ending hunger and promoting sustainable agriculture, to achieve a sustainable food future.” Topics of discussion included everything from comprehensive and responsible management of soils to the role of information and communication technologies within the sector.
The meetings ended with an optimistic press conference from the G20 troika (ministers from Germany, Argentina, Japan). Argentine Minister of Agribusiness Miguel Etchevehere asserted that “during the meetings, we showcased domestic policies, looked at the different challenges we face in meeting national and global demands, as well as the opportunities provided by agriculture and food productions in our countries.” He added that the G20 “continues to be the most relevant forum for international coordination.”
German Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture Julia Klöckner stated with the G20 meetings, “we have succeeded in clear breakthroughs for agriculture, the climate, and therefore for the consumer.” She further emphasized that “we achieved more than we thought we would and that’s a huge breakthrough.”
The referenced breakthrough can be seen through the unanimous communique published at the end of the sessions. The nine-page document details an ambiguous pledge to the global food system, acknowledging the “great responsibility to actively contribute to enhance global food security and improve nutrition by increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, while fostering the sustainable management of natural resources.”
But most key, is its section dedicated to the World Trade Organization and commitment to multilateral ideas. All G20 countries, the US included, pledged recognition of “the importance of an open and transparent multilateral trading system” particularly WTO. The communique denotes a “concern about the increasing use of protectionist non-tariff measures, inconsistent with WTO rules.” As part of these commitments, G20 countries promised to “refrain from adopting unnecessary obstacles to international trade.”
Later within the press conference, Klöckner reiterated the rhetoric against protectionism when she said “it was not the path to follow” and that “it cannot provide answers to the challenges we face today.”
Echoing the statements made in the G20, Macri gave a full-throated defense of multilateralism at the annual BRICS summit, stating “it is not, nor does it have to be, a photo-op for the press, but rather an insurance against discretionary power and a commitment with the global coexistence to which we are destined.”